Consultants: Victor Navarro, Antonia Torres Gonzalez
The Cucapa originally occupied much of the lower delta of the Colorado River and surrounding desert areas. Today the Cucapa live primarily in the settlement of El Mayor Cucapa, while their relatives the Cocopah live primarily in Somerton, Arizona. El Mayor is located on Mexican Highway 5 about 56 kilometers south of Mexicali. The Cucapa land base is the most extensive of all the indigenous communities of Baja California at 143,000 hectares, however much of it is parched desert without potential for agricultural or livestock activities. A large part of this land is the usually dry bed of the Laguna Salada, which has been greatly affected by fluctuations in the quantity and quality of water flowing in from the of the Colorado River. In years when sufficient water is released upstream, the lake fills and the Cucapa are able to practice traditional fishing activities. However contaminants either from the river itself or from toxic waste dumped within the watershed have affected the fish, as well as stagnation caused when fresh water no longer flows in to the lake, all of which on occasions have caused huge numbers of fish to die.
Illegal dumping of toxic waste has been a problem due to the proximity of Mexicali. A site where "the earth was burned and turned spongy" was described by residents as being located in a part of the watershed that feeds into the Laguna Salada. Although the site was reported to authorities, it has never been cleaned up. There also appears to be no plan for clean up of hazardous materials that might be spilled onto Cucapa land as a result of a highway accident.
El Mayor does have basic water and electric services, however water quantity and quality are serious concerns. Water testing is needed to determine quality issues. Currently water is provided to homes in the community, however quantities necessary for irrigation are not available without major water infrastructure improvements such as the drilling of wells, installation of pumps and distribution systems.
Economic activities include fishing, handcraft production (primarily beadwork, bark skirts and other traditional arts), wage labor in neighboring communities, tourist services, and exploitation of natural resources such as sand and stone.