Cultural Survival Projects - 1986

Since 1982, 60 percent of Cultural Survival's limited funds have supported field projects. Several new projects have been added to the program during this year; others have finished their funding cycle with Cultural Survival. Following a brief description of Cultural Survival's project philosophy and project selection process, we provide extensive description of a few representative Cultural Survival-sponsored projects. Finally, there is a list of all projects that have received support from Cultural Survival during the past year.

How Are Projects Selected?

Cultural Survival, rather than designing projects, responds to requests from either Indian communities, their regional organizations or Indianist support groups. But our budget permits us to support only about 15 percent of the requests received. To make funds most effective, we select projects that

(1) address representative problems faced by small societies in many areas and

(2) allow for extensive documentation and analysis.

By confronting common problems we can, on the one hand, respond to a few groups' urgent needs and, on the other, generate case studies useful in developing methodology and theory to help other populations. Documented results are disseminated to concerned individuals, human rights groups, development organizations and, when appropriate, national governments. Cultural Survival also provides emergency assistance such as medicine, travel funds or advocacy during periods of urgent violations of human rights.

What Is a Representative Problem?

Physical decimation, either from murder or introduced disease, threatens numerous distinct ethnic populations; it sparks justified outrage and demands immediate action in the form of denunciation, or international intervention and monitoring. Such gross violations of human rights usually cannot be confronted by field project. Local development projects, nonetheless, serve a vital function and perhaps can prevent some atrocities. Genocide or other extreme human rights violations often occur after a long process of gradual social erosion and economic marginalization which weakens a population's ability to defend itself as a group. Terms such as "assimilation" and "integration" usually only mask, and thus make more palatable, the destruction of the social fabric that binds a group, provides it with a voice, and permits an integrated program for controlling its future.

Cultural Survival's field projects develop from a concept of culture that is defined as a set of social mechanisms that permit a society as a group to have a sense of itself, to comprehend its situation, and to adapt to changing circumstances. Cultural Survival does not aim to preserve a romantic status quo, but rather to maintain these social mechanisms. Cultural Survival takes the position that societies do change and that it is not for outsiders to determine whether indigenous people are being "true to themselves." The organization responds to the need native peoples themselves express, not to some outsider's idealized image of an appropriate life.

Typical requests fall into two general categories:

1. Specific proposals which request assistance to improve the lives of native people. Foremost among these are projects which address the fundamental need for a secure territorial base. In addition, there are requests for appropriate education, access to credit, assistance to grass roots indigenous organizations, improved health care and opportunities for locally managed economic activities.

2. General requests to eliminate the abuses ethnic groups face from the dominant society, such as :

* Political domination

* Violence and other forms of repression

* Absence of equal rights and justice under the law

* Distorted or Eurocentric histories

Cultural Survival's field projects generally assist groups that are anticipating or undergoing radical social change and are often at critical crossroads in their social and economic evolution. Cultural Survival's projects are selected with the goal of providing groups with as much control as possible over economic and social variables that will permit them the flexibility and control necessary to prevent their becoming marginalized victims.

Cultural Survival's projects demonstrate that culturally sensitive alternatives are not necessarily expensive and need not impede national development.

Following selected project descriptions is a complete listing of Cultural Survival's new and continuing projects during 1986. Readers are referred, in some cases, to other project descriptions (or update) in this or previous CS Quarterlies. Anyone wishing to receive additional information on any of these projects is welcome to contact Cultural Survival.


Organization of Indian Peoples of Pastaza

OPIP, the Organization of Indian Peoples of Pastaza, is one of several ethnic federations that Cultural Survival funds. Such groups are of primary importance in Cultural Survival's funding program, based on the belief that ethnic federations represent one of the most promising strategies for indigenous peoples in their attempts to survive as distinct ethnic groups, and that they are in a good position to develop sound and sustainable economic programs that satisfy both their communities' immediate needs and the national government's requirements for demonstrable productivity on arable land.

Formed in 1979, OPIP, one of the newest organizations in the region, has already established itself in over 30 local organizations in dispersed communities and settlements. In the fall of 1985, Cultural Survival began supporting OPIP's program of special seminars to train and organize Quichua Indian communities of the Pastaza River basin in eastern Ecuador. These seminars train Quichua Indians in basic skills, such as accounting and administration, necessary to manage community activities. Based on the results of their first year of CS-funded activities, Cultural Survival, in October 1986, renewed its support for a second year.

At OPIP's Third Congress, held from January 30 to February 2, 1986, organization leaders and community representatives reaffirmed OPIP's basic goals, which included secure land tenure, overall economic self-sufficiency, ecologically sound economic activities and the development of a set of well-organized Indian communities to work toward these goals. Several of their resolutions reflected a concern for the need to defend and legalize land title in their territories, a problem which has become increasingly urgent in the region for a number of reasons. Rapidly developing road systems have brought an influx of colonists, many of whom, short of land themselves, encroach upon Indian territories or illegally exploit their natural resources. In addition, the present Ecuadorian administration has promoted the expansion of private, large-scale agribusiness in the Ecuadorian Amazon, often on land claimed by native communities. This policy has provoked vocal and occasionally violent protest from independent local and regional Indian organizations.

The Congress also produced resolutions emphatically asserting the need for unity among OPIP member communities. These resulted from Ecuadorian government efforts to weaken these representative Indian organizations of the region which, OPIP argues, produced a threat and an obstacle to national development plans for the Amazon. To do so, the government established the National Directorate of Indian Affairs within the Ministry of Social Welfare. The directorate is charged with all Indian affairs, including economic development and local organization. To diminish the authority and power of the existing organizations, the Directorate created parallel government organizations and provided them with economic support, while at the same time offering economic assistance directly to communities through grants from the Central Bank's Rural Development Fund rather than channeling such aid through the independent Indian Federation. OPIP states that the overall effect is to establish paternalistic government programs in individual communities, link these communities directly to the government and thus eliminate the federations which link them and represent their collective interests. This, they argue, will allow other interests to carry on large-scale extractive or other development programs with the confidence that they can easily quell or placate protest from single communities.

Faced with such political opposition and threatening development program, it has been difficult for OPIP to develop and implement a program which goes beyond responding on a daily basis to these crisis situations and establishes a long-term economic development plan for its member communities. Nonetheless, they have managed to do so, and have created a yearly program of organizational activities. For example, community stores, a marketing program for crafts and agricultural products, and efforts at controlling lumbering of communal lands are all part of ongoing efforts toward achieving self-sufficiency. In addition, OPIP has worked out a series of agreements with the member communities so that a percentage of the economic return is turned over to OPIP, an arrangement which will help the organization become economically self-sufficient. They have also obtained outside technical assistance for agricultural and fish farming programs, and scholarships to train members who will eventually take over these program. They also hope to introduce a training program with the communities to educate them in the rational use of their forest resources. The overall program will demonstrate efficient land use and thus solidify land claims.


Centro de Investigación Antropológica de la Amazonía Peruana (CIAAP)

During the last year, Cultural Survival has begun to assist CIAAP, a center for anthropological research in the Peruvian Amazon, to develop a bicultural and bilingual education program for the indigenous groups of Peru's eastern forests. CIAAP is a team of linguists, educators and anthropologists who work with indigenous people of lowland areas. Collaborating with several universities in Lima, CIAAP personnel are developing curricula that are appropriate to the unique needs of the diverse Amazonian Indian groups. In addition to designing school materials, CIAAP is training Indians from the native communities to be bilingual and bicultural teachers.

Indian education is a critical concern of both isolated indigenous groups and national governments. Indians often desire formal education to develop the language and mathematical skills needed to act in their own behalf in the larger society. National governments promote formal education as a means of national integration, using a national curriculum and non-Indian teachers. Non-Indian teaches often have little understanding of indigenous culture and their teaching programs usually have little relevancy for indigenous peoples. Consequently, formal education generally denigrates traditional Indian values without providing substantive information or important skills to be used in the larger society. In an attempt to develop a curriculum that can provide important skills to Indians within the context of indigenous culture and social organization, CIAAP is developing a system by which Indian teachers draw on concepts of the indigenous life and incorporate them into standard curriculum requirements.

Cultural Survival is indirectly collaborating with UNESCO to provide financial support for CIAAP to evaluate Indian educational needs and organize meetings of potential Indian teachers of five Amazonian Indian groups: the Yagua, Huitoto, Shipibo, Cocamilla and Aguaruna-Huambisa. Each of the five ethnic groups will elect an individual to collaborate with professionals in designing a school curriculum for training Indian teachers to be used by the Ministry of Education in the Indian communities. The curriculum will be specifically designed to train Indian teachers to teach in schools within their own communities.

Achuar Land Demarcation II

Access to land and productive resources is critical to Indians' capacity for self-determination. Cultural Survival has regularly worked to seek out and support projects that demarcate and title Indian lands to indigenous groups. Since 1980, Cultural Survival has assisted Peruvian anthropologists' efforts to delimit Achuar Indian lands and title them to these native communities. This year, support was extended to an Achuar organization to allow Indians themselves to assume control of the land demarcation project. The Achuar are a group of approximately 7,000 persons, located in the lowland forests on the border between Peru and Ecuador. Although they have previously been isolated from the settlement and development emanating from the highland areas, their lands are now threatened by recent development of oil production and the pipelines that carry it to the coastal ports.

Cultural Survival previously supported efforts by Indian assistance groups for Achuar censuses and land measurement as the first steps to acquire legal recognition of their land areas. Recently, the Achuar have organized a regional council to assume responsibility for the work. This federation, Organization Achuar Chayat (ORACH), is one of a growing number of such organizations that are being organized by Indians as a means of promoting their self-determination. In this process, they also obtain practical skills including leadership and financial management. They also require information about national bureaucracies and assistance in dealing with them. ORACH is now receiving support from Cultural Survival to develop the institutional structure and management skills to assume control of the efforts to demarcate and title their lands.

Their work, in turn, is being aided by other Indians, more experience in dealing with national institutions. ORACH is one of the newest members of Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (AIDESEP). AIDESEP, therefore, will provide ORACH with the training necessary to organize a group to carry out a land demarcation effort. Cultural Survival has provided funds to organize regional meetings between AIDESEP leaders and Achuar Indian and to print educational materials for the subsequent training of other village-level leaders of the newly formed federation. It is hoped that after a training and orientation period, ORACH will be able to undertake the remaining activities necessary for the titling of their lands.


FUNCOL's Combined Traditional and Western Health Project

As described in the introduction, health programs for indigenous people are one of Cultural Survival's several funding areas. These programs not only address a basic human need, but relate to other fundamental issues of interethnic conflict, such as forced sedentariness and loss of lands, which cause food shortages, malnutrition and increased susceptibility to disease.

Since 1982, Cultural Survival has supported FUNCOL (Fundación Comunidades Colombianas) to carry out a health program combining traditional and Western health systems, and in October of this year, renewed this funding for a final period of two years. FUNCOL is a Columbian nonprofit organization which, in the course of its legal assistance to Indians of the northeastern Llanos region, was approached by the region's Indians to help meet the urgent need for modern medial assistance. The Piapoco, Tunebo and Guahibo Indians of this area have no access to any modern medical services; others can find medical help only by walking for several days. Shamanic medical treatment is no longer sufficient in the face of increased Western diseases. High rates of morbidity and mortality, especially among children, prompted FUNCOL to initiate a combined traditional and Western health program in 1979 to help meet the Indians' health needs.

Indian societies of the eastern Llanos have undergone rapid changes in recent years. Powerful landowners, cattle ranchers and colonos (landless peasants) have increasingly pushed Indians off their traditional lands. Conflicts between settlers and Indians have increased alarmingly in the last 15 years. As the lands of the previously mobile Indians have become increasingly circumscribed, they have been forced into a more sedentary existence. Hunting and fishing, traditional activities essential to completing their diets, have thus become increasingly difficult. The resulting widespread malnutrition has left them with even less resistance to disease. This, in addition to increase contact with outsiders, has exposed them to parasitic and infectious diseases to which they have little immunity.

In 1982, Cultural Survival initiated support to train 10 Indian paramedics and provide basic medical supplies for "microdispensaries" containing essential drugs and medical equipment to cover basic health needs in the dispersed Indian settlements. Most of the paramedics have now passed through two training courses.

Community members' direct participation in the program is stressed, beginning with the process by which the paramedics are selected. Volunteer paramedics from isolated villages are selected by shamans and community leaders. Training is provided through professional nurse practitioners who work closely with local shamans. A two-week session is provided, covering primary health care practices and basic principles of public health. The course is accompanied by a simple text with drawings to illustrate appropriate techniques and practices, such as treatments for snake bites; fractures; respiratory, skin and eye infections; diarrhea; and pregnancy problems. Following the classroom session, the paramedics return to their home villages to work and train under the supervision of their instructors, who visit them regularly.

Project coordinators have identified the need for an inventory of the existing health resources of the area and for a study to determine the incidence of various diseases and other health problems. These would allow care and resources to be more effectively tailored to fit the communities' health needs. In spring 1986 Cultural Survival began to provide support for an epidemiological study being undertaken by FUNCOL, which will improve the quality and appropriateness of the program.

Thus far, FUNCOL workers believe that the greatest improvements have been achieved in the treatment of malaria, oral rehydration for diarrhea, respiratory infections and intestinal parasite infections. There has been an increased birth rate and a decrease in the rate of mortality, especially among infants, relating to control of intestinal parasites and medication for respiratory infections. The program's main weakness is its inability to improve the Indians' nutritional status. The project's overall success, however, is clear in the communities' acceptance of the program, their improved health status and the requests from new Indian communities for service. The program now serves over 2,500 Indians in three areas, the departments of Meta, Vichada and Arauca.

The communities' involvement in the planning, execution and evaluation of the project is important to its success. Village members evaluate and critique these practitioners in terms of both their medical and social skills. When "things don't work out," community and paramedic work together to find solutions, for example, by asking the communities to select a second trainee for the position. The program does not try to replace traditional shamanic and herbal medicine; it demonstrates respect for this traditional knowledge. In fact, the village members' respect for the nurse practitioners was easily won by their knowledge and respect of local medicinal plants and their approval of continued use of such cures.

There are problems in this type of health care delivery. Logistical, financial and political factors hinder the project's success. The nurses try to visit villages' paramedics and to restock the microdispensaries once or twice a year, but it is often impossible. The distance between villages often requires several days' travel by canoe and foot. Furthermore, though this project is a low-cost and effective type of health care, financial instability endangers the project's long-term success. A permanent means to keep the micro-dispensaries stocked must be found.

One problem preventing the FUNCOL program from extending its activities stems from the Colombian government's policy prohibiting paramedics from administering vaccines, even though they are in an ideal position to initiate vaccination programs with appropriate education, explanation and follow-up. Government vaccination programs have been sporadic and incomplete, partly due to lack of community acceptance. Vaccines are painful, sometimes cause fever and are poorly understood. Government vaccination programs have also been impaired by lack of transportation, poor record-keeping and absence of refrigeration facilities. Unfortunately, government policy restricts paramedics from dispensing tuberculosis medication. Like the vaccination program, the government does not adequately fulfill program needs. Treatment under these conditions is difficult: several months of daily injections and oral medication are clearly impossible for Indians who come from a great distance and cannot afford to stay at the clinic for the necessary treatment time. Finally, guerrilla violence in the region, especially in Arauca, makes work in some areas difficult and dangerous.

It is Cultural Survival's hope and expectation that, following our initial, limited support, FUNCOL will be successful in its attempts at obtaining broader support, public or private, to finance this culturally appropriate and relatively low-cost medical program.

Puerto Rastrojo Natural Resource Management Program.

The relationship between natural resource management and indigenous peoples' human rights is an area of increasing importance to Cultural Survival. Cultural Survival approved funding in October 1986 to permit local Indian involvement in the development and implementation of a conservation and management program to protect the endangered Giant River Turtle P. expansa, in the Colombian Amazon region. This project and the overall program is being carried out under the auspices of the Fundación Estación de Biología Puerto Rastrojo (FBPR), an applied biological research institute, which has been carrying out biological, ecological and anthropological research in the Colombian Amazon for a number of years. Since 1983, the World Wildlife Fund has helped the institute to undertake research and establish a national park along the Caqueta River.

The project is designed to integrate park and resource management into the Indians' traditional forms of social and political organization, and to reinforce existing Indian community resource management systems, a factor which will increase the program's likelihood of acceptance by local Indian communities and their willingness to become involved in the long-term management of the resource. Cultural Survival's contribution permits three Indian field assistants and two anthropologists to collect information from local Miraña-Bora Indian communities regarding the history and current aspects of turtle exploitation, along with the Indians' knowledge of and attitudes towards the Giant River Turtle and its significance in Indian cosmology. Cultural Survival funding will also support the development of a strategy for training local Indians in the management program. An important aspect of the program has been the planning, with the Colombian National Environment Institute (INDERENA) of a national park, in part to protect the turtles' nesting areas. The Colombian government formally recognized that park, Cahuinari National Park, in September 1986, partly on the understanding that FBPR would develop and carry out its conservation and management program.

Despite existing laws to protect it, P expansa, the world's largest freshwater turtle, is a highly endangered species due to the over exploitation of its eggs and meat for commercial purposes. It has long served as an important food source for Indians and mestizos of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. The Caqueta River is practically the only major river where the Giant River Turtle still exists in the Colombian Amazon. The project also will investigate ways that Indians can become beneficiaries of what limited commercial exploitation of P. expansa and other local resources will take place (of ornamental fish and rubber, for example). At present, these activities are monopolized by white dealers with practically no benefit to local Indians. So this management program is important in two respects: it will ensure the long-term protection of this endangered species and guarantee an important future food supply for the Indians of the region.

The project area, bisected by the lower Caqueta River, includes nearly four million hectares of tropical rainforest inhabited by a number of Indian groups. To the north of the river lie the Miriti Indian resguardo (Indian reserve; 1.6 million hectares) and the Resguardo Indígena de Córdoba (200,000 hectares); to the south lies the Cahuinari National Park established by INDERENA, covering an area of roughly 400,000 hectares.

Earlier projects undertaken by FBPR helped to lay the groundwork for this current conservation program. They helped four different Indian communities to establish small schools, which are now run by local Indian teachers. They also assisted in the establishment of the Indian resguardos mentioned above; helped reinforce local community organizations (Acción Comunal) and Indian cabildos (governing councils) and to acquire legal recognition of these entities; and they assisted in the definition of a management plan by the Indian groups.

The Information gathered by the anthropologists and Indian field assistants will be used to help local Indian communities conserve and protect what for them is an important resource. Local educational programs will be involved; Indian teachers will work with the anthropologists and biologists to produce booklets in Spanish and Indian languages explaining the need and importance of natural resource conservation, based on both the Western and Indian perspectives of the problem. (Under Colombian law, Indians may determine the contents of their school curricula). The project coordinators believe that the participation of local Indian communities and their refusal to work for local turtle traders can help decrease exploitation significantly.

After the research is completed, project members, in collaboration with the Fundación Centro de Cooperación al Indígena (CECOIN), will discuss the research project and its results with local Indian leaders and shamans, member of local cabildos and of Acción Comunal, and will work with them to define a strategy for applying the management program.

The project coordinators stated that the results of the first study period have been positive, as has been local community response. Also important to the program's success, local government institutions are becoming progressively involved in the program.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Issue: