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Somerton students told of Cocopah culture, traditions
SOMERTON — As part of the observance of Native American Day on Friday, students at Somerton Middle School didn't merely talk about tribal culture and tradition given by visiting speakers from the Cocopah nation.
The visitors, mainly Cocopah youths dressed in traditional tribal wear, made their presentations in the form of songs and dances.
“Our goal is to bring part of our culture to the students of Somerton, and let them know we are here,” said Fern Soto, who besides being a tribal member serves on the governing board of the Somerton School District.
The tribe, consisting of three non-adjoining reservations, falls within and around the city of Somerton.
Given that Somerton residents observe Hispanic Heritage Month and Mexico's independence day, “why not teach them the culture and tradition of our tribe?” Soto added.
Soto, who is part Navajo, said that apart from exposing students in the predominately Hispanic district to tribal customs, observance of Native American Day “inspires youths of the tribe to be proud of being Cocopah.”
Friday's visitors went from class to class at Somerton Middle School to speak, dance and show off traditional Cocopah costumes to the accompaniment of music and songs performed by tribal council member Neil White.
Irene Sharkey, great-grandmother of the dancers, said the songs portray events both in daily tribal life and formal Cocopah festivals and ceremonies.
The Cocopah Tribe has managed to preserve its music and dance by teaching those traditions to each new generation, Sharkey said.
“We don't want our traditions to die. We want to keep them alive. I am proud of my great-granddaughters. This is something that I encourage in my family.”
The Cocopah language, on the other hand, is a tradition fast becoming extinct, said Soto.
“Some of the (Cocopah) children can speak some words of the native language but not complete sentences, and the original language doesn't exist because it was lost with the deaths of our elders.”
In their talks to Somerton students, the visitors explained how Cocopah elders make use of tribal legends to instill important lessons in youth.
“It's important to know where we came from, to know who we are,” said elder Colin Soto. “And if we know who we are, we know where we are going.”
About 30 Cocopah youths attend Somerton Middle School, said Tiffany Vance, the school's vice principal. Along with Hispanic heritage, she said, the school annually celebrates Native American Day.
“Each time they come to the school, the students enjoy it and learn a lot. It's good that they learn everything so they can prepare themselves for the world.”