Cultural Survival envisions a future that respects and honors Indigenous Peoples inherent rights and dynamic cultures, deeply and richly interwoven in lands, languages, spiritual traditions, and artistic expression, rooted in self-determination and self-governance.
Cultural Survival advocates for Indigenous Peoples rights and supports Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures and political resilience, since 1972.
The impulse for the founding of Cultural Survival arose during the 1960s with the “opening up” of the Amazonian regions of South America and other remote regions elsewhere. As governments all over the world sought to extract resources from areas that had never before been developed, the drastic effects this trend had on the regions' Indigenous Peoples underscored the urgent need to defend the human rights of these "victims of progress." Cultural Survival was founded by Harvard University anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis and his wife Pia to assist Indigenous Peoples in their struggles.
Today, the organization promotes the rights of Indigenous communities around the globe. All of the work is predicated on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2007, after 25 years of negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This document, which was created by Indigenous representatives working with government representatives, is the fundamental document spelling out the distinctive rights of Indigenous Peoples. These include the right to live on and use their traditional territories; the right to self-determination; the right to free, prior, and informed consent before any outside project is undertaken on their land; the right to keep their languages, cultural practices, and sacred places; the right to full government services, and, perhaps most significant, the right to be recognized and treated as peoples. Cultural Survival has partnered with United Nations bodies and other intergovernmental organizations, and with indigenous and human rights organizations around the globe. Cultural Survival holds consultative status with the United Nations.
Cultural Survival partners with Indigenous communities to defend their lands, languages, and cultures. We assist them in obtaining the knowledge, advocacy tools, and strategic partnerships they need to protect their rights. When their governments don't respond, we partner with them to bring their cases to international commissions and courts, and we involve the public and policy makers in advocating for their rights. In addition, Cultural Survival offers the most comprehensive source of information on Indigenous Peoples on the planet. Our award-winning magazine, the Cultural Survival Quarterly, has been published for more than 37 years.
Over the past 40 years, we have partnered with tribal peoples in Amazonian rainforests, Tibetan nomads, reindeer herders in Mongolia, pastoralists and hunter-gatherers in Africa, aboriginal peoples in Australia, Native Americans, and many others.
Our programming includes mounting letter-writing campaigns and other advocacy efforts to stop environmental destruction and abuses of Native Peoples' rights; and working on the ground in Indigenous communities, always at their invitation. Programming also includes support and expansion of Indigenous owned and operated community radio, and support and advocacy for community based language revitalization programs. Cultural Survival also publicizes Indigenous Peoples' issues through the Cultural Survival Quarterly available online and in print.
Indigenous Rights Radio Program:
Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Rights Radio Program is strengthening Indigenous Peoples’ capacity to claim their rights by increasing awareness and understanding international human rights mechanisms, through community media and community exchanges. Cultural Survival is producing an innovative new radio series to inform Indigenous listeners about their rights and working with communities to develop their own guidelines, based on their unique experiences and cultural perspectives, to build capacity, reinforce self-determination, and assist communities to organize to defend their rights.
Cultural Survival's Advocacy Program launches international advocacy campaigns with Indigenous communities whose right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent is being violated by agribusiness and extractive industries.
Community Media Program:
Community radio is an essential medium for information sharing, language revitalization and cultural survival in Indigenous communities. Our program works to legalize community radio in Guatemala by pressing for reform of Guatemala’s telecommunications law; produces and distributes quality radio programs that strengthen and sustain indigenous language, music, and civic participation; trains volunteers in journalism, lobbying, content creation, script-writing, and Internet use; builds local capacity to sustain the project.
Endangered Languages Program:
Indigenous languages carry unique philosophies, histories, ceremonies, and irreplaceable environmental knowledge of biodiversity accumulated over millenia. Native languages constitute both the core and the foundations of tribal identities and cultures by mapping ancestors' universes and ties to traditional homelands. But in the United States, more than 70 of the remaining 139 Native languages could fall silent in the next 5 years unless immediate action is taken to teach them to younger generations of tribal citizens.
We have partnered with Native American communities in the US, including the Euchee, Sac and Fox, Wampanoag, Northern Arapaho, and Aleutic, to support their efforts in language reclamation and revitalization. Cultural Survival also works to strengthen federal policy and increase government and foundation funding to support language revitalization, and has raised $10 million in support of endangered languages. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, we brought together Indigenous language experts and radio producers from around the world to promote community radio as a vehicle for language revitalization. Currently Cultural Survival is determining future directions for our work on Indigenous languages.
Indigenous Artisan Bazaar Program:
The Cultural Survival Bazaar Program works to strengthen Indigenous cultures by providing a venue for the sale of art and crafts made by Indigenous artisans. The sale of crafts perpetuates the artistic traditions which are culturally significant to many Indigenous communities, provides capital to Indigenous communities, and provides sustainable income to individual artisans and their families. Since 2006, the Cultural Survival Bazaars have generated over 3 million dollars for Indigenous artisans, performers, fair trade, and other projects benefiting Native communities.
The Cultural Survival headquarters is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and satellite offices are located in Guatemala and Colorado.