At Cultural Survival, our staff and board have come together to agree and manifest what we believe are the core values of our organization, both internally as members of a team, and externally among our wider kin, partners, donors, and members, partner organizations, and stakeholders. Developing this list of values and principles has been a multi-stage process inclusive of Cultural Survival’s full staff, senior leadership, and board of directors over a period of months.
Beginning in March 2020, Cultural Survival has been undergoing a staff-led strategic planning process. As an organization, we have grown considerably since our founding 50 years ago by Harvard anthropologists and sociologists in 1972. Just over the past 10 years, our staff has doubled in size, from 15 staff in 2 countries to a staff of 29 in 10 countries in 2021. Today, as an Indigenous-led organization with a majority Indigenous, majority women staff, and a majority Indigenous board, we saw the necessity of clearly establishing and reflecting on the fundamental values and principles that we hold as the Cultural Survival community, as staff, and as a board. We understood this process as articulating, for the first time in the organization’s history, the existing underlying shared values that are already practiced day to day by our staff and board, while also integrating the values that we consider necessary as we continue to evolve as an organization led-by, staffed-by, and serving Indigenous Peoples in the 21st Century.
“These values already existed within the Cultural Survival community, they were just not explicit. Collectively discussing, debating, and writing them down was an important exercise for us, to take a moment to step back and really articulate together what it is we are striving for, and what should guide our actions and relationships. Articulating this also allows those outside of our circle to understand what we are about as an organization,” explains Galina Angarova, Executive Director.
The process began with the establishment of an internal working group on values and principles, made up of eight staff members representing diverse regions, cultures, experiences, ages and genders. Meeting biweekly, we mapped a process of consultation with our team moving forward. A first step included surveying staff and board to identify key values upheld in their professional, community, and personal lives. In a staff and board Zoom discussion we presented a total of 53 concepts that came forward as a result of gathering and systematization of the survey responses. In break out groups we discussed which values most spoke to us, and what they meant in our lives.
After an iterative process with rounds of further feedback and edits, the final version was reviewed and adopted at our Fall 2021 Board Meeting.
We hope and expect that these values will be upheld by our full Cultural Survival community. This process was not just an exercise in defining our values, but also will act as a guide for how we continue to move forward with our work and how we exist in community with each other as staff, board, and members, and stakeholders. As our board chair, Kaimana Barcarse (Kanaka Hawaiʻi) explains, “At CS, we have worked with our Indigenous communities and staff to develop a set of Values and Principles that will guide our work in a 'pono' or proper way that honors the diversity of Indigenous ways of knowing and being, and helps to guide our actions to be sure we work in support of Indigenous Peoples in a way that is acceptable and welcomed by them.”
These are the values we uphold:
We center, value, and promote the self-determination of Indigenous Peoples to freely determine their political conditions and to pursue their own forms of economic, social, and cultural development, especially with regard to their own ways of life, cosmovisions, and the integrity of their lands and territories. Towards realizing self-determination, we advocate for the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigeous Peoples to be upheld in all decisions that affect them.
At Cultural Survival, we work towards a vision that centers, promotes, and values the cosmovisions of Indigenous Peoples as a core tenant of our work. We understand Indigenous cosmovisions as diverse ways of thinking, living, and being in relationship with, and knowing the world. These cosmovisions are as diverse as there are Indigenous Peoples on the planet, and operate on systems of ideas and practices that define each community’s beliefs, values, and customs and their relationships with Mother Earth.
Trust is a value that allows us to operate in reciprocal relationships with those around us, in which trust is an antecedent to action. Cultural Survival places trust in our community partners, our funders and donors, in our team members, and in our leaderships.
Humility is a value that allows us to understand that there are greater forces outside of our organization and outside of ourselves as individuals. We allow ourselves to be guided by the wisdom of our ancestors and those who have laid the groundwork before us. We acknowledge our limitations and our weaknesses, while always working towards improvement.
Indigenous Peoples across the globe are extremely diverse. Among our partners, within our team, and within individuals, we represent an array of diverse cultures and ways of understanding the world. We respect and acknowledge diversity of Indigenous Peoples, geography, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, language, religion, spirituality, age, experiences, viewpoint and cosmovision.
We consider community, collectivity, and collaboration as fundamental ways of life. This extends to our vision of land stewardship, our relationship with life on earth and our interdependence. We value and respect collective rights as defined by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in addition to individual human rights.
Based on and incorporating these core values, we operate according to the following principles:
We respect the feelings, wishes, rights, identities and traditions of others, with particular consideration and recognition of the self-determination of the communities we work with and their unique processes of decision-making. Respect is an essential aspect in all interactions we engage in.
We believe in the inherent dignity of all human beings and lifeforms, while recognizing that the reality we live in has not been equal for all. We condemn racism, misogyny, and all forms of violence and oppression, and seek equity for all. We inform our idea of equity through Indigenous cosmovisions. We recognize that external forces have disrupted the balances of community relations, gender relations, relations with nature, and cultural relations, and our programs seek to support work that heals this balance, in alignment with Indigenous cosmovisions.
We are accountable for our words and our actions. We are accountable to our communities, our elders and our youth, to generations in the future and to our ancestors of the past. We believe that honesty, consistency, and communication are core to accountability.
Informed by our sense of community and trust, we harness empathy and value acting in solidarity with others. Solidarity is an opportunity for collaboration, sharing, reciprocity, and working in collective towards a common objective. At the same time it helps us build good relationships with others in the long term. It is a service towards a common interest or movement based on knowledge and empathy for a cause.
Our nearly 50-year legacy of advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supporting Indigenous self-determination, cultures, and political resilience is thanks to you, our community, who help make our work possible. Support our work today!