Cozcacuauhtli: Protester Facing Prison for Dancing

First published on The Big Smoke.
January 19, 2022

An Aztec Jaguar Warrior running a traditional dance; photo by Jonata Oregón (CC BY-SA 4.0). The photo shows the head and shoulders of an Indigenous person wearing an Aztec headdress with many black feathers emerging from a jaguar head and a dozen longer black and white feathers coming from the center.

Born in California, Cozcacuauhtli moved to very rural Oregon with her family when she was five and grew up among the Native communities of Warm Springs, Yakama, and Siletz.

Both of Cozcacuauhtli’s grandfathers served in World War II and her father in Vietnam. She joined the U.S. Navy in 1990, serving two years active duty, including during Operation Desert Storm, and six years in the naval reserves. Her service left her disabled with a partially paralyzed right leg and a fractured L-4. Since leaving the Navy, Cozcacuauhtli obtained a bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University and a master’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University.

A Mestiza (a woman of mixed European and Native American ancestry), her paternal grandparents were born in California of Mexican heritage. Through them, she has ties to Nahuatl peoples which included the Aztecs. In the mid ’90s while at OSU, Cozcacuauhtli learned Danza Azteca and was a member of an OSU MEChA, the first Aztec Dance group in Oregon.

The group, “Mexica Tiahui” danced on Mexican holidays and at protests. In addition, they brought supplies to farm workers, advocated for them, and backed them on marches for justice.

Mexica Tiahui shared their knowledge of Danza Azteca and taught hundreds of dancers all over Oregon. For more than 10 years, Cozcacuauhtli volunteered in schools in the Yakima Valley teaching Danza Azteca to students. She also continued attending farm worker rallies and marches.

In addition, Cozcacuauhtli stood up to Canadian Mounties in defense of water protectors; supported successful protests against the Jordan Cove pipeline that threatened waterways and wildlife habitat in the Oregon Coast Range and on the Southern Oregon Coast; and supported the Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu defending Thacker Pass/Peehee mu’huh in Nevada from lithium mining that will destroy sacred sites and burial grounds of Paiute and Shoshone tribes and threatens water, air, and endangered wildlife in that area.

In Portland for the last two years, Cozcacuauhtli has filmed and supported those protesting ICE atrocities against Indigenous peoples including those who died in Oregon and Washington jails and prisons, the more than 1,000 Indigenous children dragged from their parents’ arms at the border who still haven’t been returned to their families, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIW).

For this, she has been beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, tackled, punched, and repeatedly arrested. She has sustained multiple traumatic brain injuries, additional nerve damage to her injured leg, contusions, abrasions, and other serious injuries. City, county, and federal law enforcement caged her in a filthy Multnomah County jail (walls and floors covered in feces) and ICE holding cells where she was deprived of medical care, food, water, clothing, and sanitary facilities. She witnessed sexual assaults on minors.

On May 31, 2021, Cozcacuauhtli and other Native American protesters hung piñatas and said prayers for Indigenous people murdered and disappeared by ICE. When the federal officers destroyed the sacred prayer altar, Cozcacuauhtli spontaneously began Danza Azteca. In protest. In prayer.

In retribution, after pepper spraying the protesters, ICE officials “tackled me very hard.” One “injured my knee and slammed my head into the road. I was still gagging and coughing from the pepper spray. It made the fed angry so he elbowed the back of my head and then he punched me in the temple and my head hit the asphalt again. He was angry because when I coughed it made it difficult to lock the cuffs.”

Cozcacuauhtli was carried past the gate onto ICE property. Although ICE called an ambulance, her injuries made it difficult for her to communicate with the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). An ICE supervisor dismissed the EMTs, claiming Cozcacuauhtli had been drinking and smoking, neither of which was true. “After spending two days in jail with no medical treatment or evaluation I went to the hospital from jail. A CT scan showed a hematoma under my cheekbone. I had a black eye and injuries all over. My knee hurt so bad I thought it was broken but an X-ray showed the screw in the knee from a previous surgery was aggravated by the federal officer’s tackle.”

A federal officer claimed that Cozcacuauhtli “grabbed my baton and took me to the ground.”

She laughs. “I’m 5’4”, 145-pound, 50-year-old, disabled grandma who doesn’t work out. There is no way I took a strong, young, tall dude down! It’s all on video camera, but I’m sure the judge will excuse this Fed’s lie as a mistake and not fraud.”

On February 8, 2022, Cozcacuauhtli is scheduled to appear in federal court on charges of having eyebrows similar to someone, wearing a mask, who was captured on video spray-painting a security camera. All other charges stemming from the May 31, 2021, protest have been dropped because the video evidence didn’t support them.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Scott Erik Asphaug, dropped charges of assaulting a federal officer against Cozcacuauhtli “after he saw the fed attacking me for nothing.” Those charges were the sole reason for her arrest and the two days she spent in federal custody. “He dropped the charges, but in order to keep their hooks in me they needed something to replace it with. They went back six months to find video of someone who looks similar to me masked up except eyes and eyebrows spray painting a security camera. It is not me. I have evidence and witnesses it’s not me. I was elsewhere.”

CozcacuauhtliEven though Cozcacuauhtli is a fourth-generation U.S. Citizen, she has been accused by numerous white supremacists and fascists of being an illegal immigrant. “You can’t be any shade of Brown while protesting ICE without your citizenship status publicly questioned,” she stated.

Every time Cozcacuauhtli is charged with a crime, the false accusations are repeatedly broadcast by right-wing media and Mayor Edward Tevis “Ted” Wheeler who objects to the fact that she has never been convicted in the city of Portland. So far, almost all of the charges have been dropped. Many were based on false statements by police officers who are known liars including Ken Le, one of three Portland Police Bureau officers accused of spreading lies about City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in retaliation for her attempts to hold the PPB accountable for racial injustice and out-of-control use of force. Le has been accused by numerous protesters, and other victims of his lies, of falsifying police reports. In Cozcacuauhtli’s case, she had multiple cameras angles proving Le was lying in order to arrest her. Despite that, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt persecuted her for more than a year over Le’s false charges.

One week after the president [at the time] retweeted Cozcacuauhtli’s full legal name with her video covering the protests stating “lock these animals up” she was arrested by federal law enforcement for the first time. They have arrested her five times since. She doubts this is a coincidence.

“Hundreds of J6-ers are facing no charges while I sit here going on trial next month for piñatas, candles, balloons, and (MMIW) red dresses. No charges for Shane Kohfield, who stood outside Wheeler’s house with an AR-15 threatening to slaughter us all. And Louis Garrick Fernbaugh was filmed leaving the pipe bomb scene by the protesters he threw bombs at.

“How many right wingers did an armed takeover of [Malheur National Wildlife Refuge] federal property for weeks and they never got charged or successfully prosecuted?” Cozcacuauhtli asks. “The FBI knows who every Indigenous water protector and their cousin is, but they are still searching for hundreds of white males on film assaulting capitol police.”

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