Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival
Cultural Survival
Type Non-governmental organization
Founded 1972
Location Cambridge, United States
Area served Worldwide
Focus Indigenous rights
Revenue US$ 1,249,153 (2009)

Cultural Survival (founded 1972) is a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA which is dedicated to defending the human rights of indigenous peoples. Their stated mandate is to promote the rights, voices and visions, of indigenous people. For 37 years, Cultural Survival has partnered with Indigenous communities to protect their lands, languages, and cultures. Through its programs and campaigns Cultural Survival helps them get the knowledge, advocacy tools, and strategic partnerships they need to protect their rights. When their governments do not respond, Cultural Survival partners with them to bring their cases to international commissions and courts, and they involve the public and policy makers in advocating for their rights. Cultural Survival offers the most comprehensive source of information on indigenous peoples, including the award-winning magazine, the Cultural Survival Quarterly, which has been published for more than 30 years.



Cultural Survival was founded by anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis and his wife, Pia[1], in response to the opening up of the Amazonian and South American hinterlands during the 1960s, and the drastic effects this had on Indigenous inhabitants. It has since worked with Indigenous communities in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, and Australia, becoming the leading US-based organization defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world. Their efforts are guided by a board of directors that includes some of the world’s preeminent indigenous leaders, as well as anthropologists, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs, and their executive director is a renowned human rights lawyer. Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cultural Survival also has a satellite office for the Guatemala Radio Project in Guatemala. Cultural Survival has received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator for outstanding fiscal responsibility.[2]


1. To increase global understanding of indigenous peoples’ rights, cultures, and concerns;

2. To empower indigenous peoples to be better self-advocates, and to partner with them to advocate for their human rights.


Cultural Survival is governed by a Board of Directors and is indigenous led. The Board of Directors serves as Cultural Survival’s legal accountability mechanism and bears the responsibilities of boards of directors in the United States and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Program Council helps to identify and shape Cultural Survival’s programs, and provides oversight to ensure that those programs maximally serve the needs of indigenous peoples.


  • Cultural Survival Quarterly Cultural Survival Quarterly brings you inside indigenous cultures around the world, sharing their ways of life, their spirituality, their celebrations, and their challenges, all with stunning photography and intimate insights from native writers and experts.

Cultural Survival Quarterly magazine has covered indigenous rights issues for nearly 30 years. Each issue includes feature articles focused on themes of concern to indigenous peoples, as well as news pieces, interviews, and book reviews. All of the authors are indigenous or are professionals who work closely with indigenous peoples.

It has been Honored by many Utne Reader awards and nominations.


The organization works to empower indigenous peoples by:

  • Disseminating information about the solutions indigenous groups have adopted to address the problems they face, as well as the lessons learned from research and case evaluations.
  • Facilitating capacity-building on topics such as organizational management, media relations, fund raising, land demarcation, negotiation techniques, and political participation rights.
  • Providing the professional expertise needed to protect their rights and long-term development goals.
  • Assisting them to understand the motivations of governments, inter-governmental organizations, and financial and corporate interests.
  • Facilitating mutual-understanding and problem-solving dialogues among indigenous groups and non-indigenous interests.
  • Securing development assistance to support advocacy activities.
  • Cultural Survival, in partnership with indigenous peoples, advocates for their human rights before inter-governmental institutions, governments, courts, financial institutions, and corporations.

Current Programs and Activities

Under the guidance of our Indigenous-led Program Council, Cultural Survival partners with Indigenous communities to defend their rights and sustain their cultures. Cultural Survival seeks to help them to get the knowledge, advocacy tools, and strategic partnerships they need to protect their rights. Every Cultural Survival program is designed to become self-sustaining and run entirely by the indigenous community.

Guatemala Radio Project

The Guatemalan army couldn't wipe out Mayan culture, but American Idol can. The indigenous peoples of Guatemala have kept their culture through 500 years of colonization, brutal repression, and, most recently, 36 years of genocide that killed 200,000 Maya. But where brute force failed, globalization is succeeding. Mainstream Western entertainment is now flooding Guatemala‘s airwaves, hammering home the 24-hour-a-day message that Mayans should abandon their languages, their clothing, their spirituality, and their identities. And the only thing holding back this tidal wave of homogeneity is a network of tiny 500-watt radio stations.

Cultural Survival is partnering with Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations to strengthen this network of 140 community radio stations across the country, many of which broadcast in one or more of the country’s 23 indigenous languages. The stations provide news, educational programming, health information, and traditional music, all reinforcing pride in Mayan heritage. Cultural Survival provides the equipment and organizational expertise, while cooperating with the local people who run the radio. This has produced some results: languages on the brink of extinction have come back into common use; marimba music that was being replaced with top-40 songs is being played again; and people are wearing the distinctive traje that defines where they come from and who they are. However, some problems have emerged. The Guatemalan laws allow the police to shut down stations and confiscate equipment, and this is being done with increasing frequency. Cultural Survival has resquested help from the public to shore up what they believe to be a fragile network of protection for Mayan communities and cultures. More information on the project: [1]

Ngöbe Campaign

Stopping Dam Construction in Panama

For centuries the Ngöbe people have lived by the rivers in the remote hills of western Panama, but now the government of Panama sees profit in those rivers, and they have given concessions to subsidiaries of the American company AES to build a series of large hydroelectric dams. The dams would flood the Ngöbe's traditional territory, destroy their homes and fields, and break apart communities and families. To clear the way for the dams, the AES subsidiary and the Panamanian government are pressuring the Ngobe to sign away their rights on documents they can't read, and are using other techniques to drive them out.

With the Panamanian partners, they have filed suit with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to stop this project, but Cultural Survival is anticipating further legal battles. For updated information visit: [2]

Native Language Revitalization Campaign

Cultural Survival points to governmental policies that existed through the 1950s as being the source that led to the destruction of Native American languages. The practice of removing Native children from their communities and placing them in remote boarding schools was intended to break the transmission of language from one generation to the next, and it was successful. They feel it is important to repair the damage to Native American languages while it is possible.

There are techniques which have shown to work quickly in transmitting language from elders to young people. The experience of Indigenous Peoples in Hawaii and New Zealand shows that immersion schools, language nests (a fluent speaker working with a group of learners), and master-apprentice programs (pairing an elder speaker with one learner) are very successful.

Cultural Survival has called attention for the Native American communities as being in need of funding, political support, and training to make these programs work. More information about the campaign: [3]

Global Response Campaign

When Indigenous communities face environmental destruction from extractive industries like mining, logging, and hydroelectric dams, Global Response steps in, with international letter-writing campaigns that put pressure on corporate executives and government officials. These campaigns, always undertaken at the request of the community, have been exceptionally effective: over the past 19 years Global Response has launched more than 100 campaigns around the world, and almost half of them have produced victories. Thanks to Global Response letter writers, Indigenous communities have kept their lands, saved their crops, preserved their forests, and maintained their way of life. More information about the campaign: [4]

Cultural Survival Bazaar

The Cultural Survival Bazaars are a series of cultural festivals that give Indigenous artists, their representatives, other non-profits, and fair trade companies from around the world the chance to sell their work directly to the American public. They also expose over 35,000 Americans each year to Indigenous art, music, and culture, while giving visitors a chance to talk with Indigenous artists directly.

Every year, hundreds of artists and their representatives sell traditional crafts, artwork, clothing, jewelry, carpets, and accessories. The bazaars also offer a wide assortment of performances, presentation, and craft-making demonstrations providing the public with an entertaining experience while educating the public about Indigenous rights and cultures.

The bazaars also serve as a fundraiser for Cultural Survival's international non-profit work in partnership with Indigenous Communities. In the past seven years alone the bazaars have generated over $3 million for indigenous artisans, fair trade businesses, indigenous communities’ programs, and Cultural Survival’s work on behalf of Indigenous Peoples. More information about the program/events: [5]

Universal Periodic Review

The new United Nations Human Rights Council is evaluating the human rights performance of every country in the world every four years. Cultural Survival wants to be sure that indigenous rights are included in those evaluations, so, with the assistance of the Harvard College Student Advocates for Human Rights, they are providing country reports to the Human Rights Council. These reports detail how a given country is (or is not) respecting the rights of its indigenous populations in relation to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and they offer recommendations for improvements. Each report is submitted to the Human Rights Council as part of its Universal Periodic Review process. Read the reports: [6]

Related Concepts

Rather than being frozen in time, or in aspic, the notion of cultural survival, is an anthropological concept pioneered by the founder of Cultural Survival, Harvard University's well-known ethnologist of central Brazil, Professor of Anthropology, David Maybury-Lewis. It refers to the ability of a distinctive people to recall their past, while also having a real say in the contemporary and future direction of their culture(s).

See also


  1. ^ [ Credo Reference - Maybury-Lewis, David H.P. b. 1929, Hyderabad, Pakistan]
  2. ^ Charity Navigator - Cultural Survival

External links

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