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Cultural Survival Inc.



  • Existence: 1972

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972 as a tax-exempt nongovernmental organization based in Cambridge, MA seeking to promote the human and political rights of the world’s indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. The organization’s early efforts relied on a globally distributed network of anthropologists and other scholars. Since staff expansion began in 1979, Cultural Survival has been involved in many endeavors, including: developing and/or supporting on-the-ground projects in Central, South, and North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe; publishing focused research and the Cultural Survival Quarterly magazine; conducting educational programs; and organizing Cultural Survival Bazaar trade festivals throughout New England.

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972 by David and Pia Maybury-Lewis, Evon Zartman Vogt, and Orlando Patterson as a tax-exempt nongovernmental organization based in Cambridge, MA seeking to promote the human and political rights of the world’s indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. Since its first years, interns have played a significant role in the day-to-day operations of Cultural Survival. In 1979, the organization hired its first full-time staff member, Theodore (Ted) Macdonald, and soon afterward also added Jason Clay to its payroll. Together with a global personal network of anthropologists and ethnologists, Cultural Survival developed projects, a research program, and a series of publications, and worked to secure funding for programs supporting indigenous peoples and causes in the field. From its early years, Cultural Survival has also put on the Cultural Survival Bazaar, an annual or semi-annual festival designed to make indigenous art visible and give indigenous artisans a market for their work, for many years organized by Pia Maybury-Lewis. In more recent years, Bazaars have also served as a way for Cultural Survival to raise funds and increase awareness of its programs supporting indigenous issues.

Beginning in the 1980s, Cultural Survival received substantial funding from the Ford Foundation, the World Bank, and the US Agency for International Development to carry out Cultural Survival Projects. The original focus of these projects was largely political organizing and resource management in Central and South America, reflecting the personal contacts of Cultural Survival staff. With the additions of Dominique (Nickie) Irvine and Mac Chapin to its staff, Cultural Survival added de facto offices in California and the D.C. area, and continued to expand the number and geographic diversity of the projects it supported. By 1986, Cultural Survival was supporting projects in, among other locations, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, the Middle East, Namibia, Nepal, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

Starting in 1983, Cultural Survival also supported what they called Special Projects – “projects designed, managed, and funded by anthropologists, development specialists, and indigenous peoples with very close ties to Cultural Survival who use[d] the organization’s 501(c)(3) status and, in some cases its accounting services, to carry out their work.” Special Projects had to be approved and reviewed by Cultural Survival’s Board of Directors but, unlike Projects, maintained a high level of autonomy in their day-to-day operations and were generally not funded by Cultural Survival. Special Projects have been supported in Central, South, and North America; Africa; Asia; and Europe.

In 1989, Cultural Survival established Cultural Survival Enterprises (CSE), a “non-profit trading division that developed and marketed products” with the intention of “generating income for Indigenous people who were struggling to protect their lands and traditions within rainforest regions.” The most commercially successful and widely known of CSE’s products was Rainforest Crunch, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor containing nuts harvested from the Amazon rainforest. During this time, Cultural Survival’s staff size and costs increased significantly.

In order to manage the increasingly complex organization and to meet the requirements of funding agencies, Cultural Survival hired Pam Solo, a MacArthur fellow perhaps best known for her peace work related to nuclear arms, as its first Executive Director in 1990. By late 1991, Cultural Survival had 31 employees and a number of interns. A breakdown of previously profitable partnerships with The Body Shop and others, significant loan debt, and increased operation costs eventually led to financial trouble and external criticism. Cultural Survival responded by phasing out the CSE program and reducing staff to minimal levels. By 1996, Cultural Survival had 6 staff members on its payroll.

Throughout the 1990s, Cultural Survival decreased its financial support of Projects and Special Projects but continued to sponsor and publish research on issues relevant to indigenous people. This occurred largely in collaboration with the Program on Non-Violent Sanctions and Cultural Survival (PONSACS) at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, which was formed in January 1995 as a formal merger of Cultural Survival Center, the research wing of Cultural Survival established in 1991, and the former Program on Nonviolent Sanctions at Harvard specializing in nonviolent alternatives to conflicts in order to preserve cultures and peoples. PONSACS was directed by David Maybury-Lewis from 1995-2005, and hired Ted Macdonald as Assistant Director following the latter’s departure from Cultural Survival. Given the close ties between the two organizations, PONSACS lent support to Cultural Survival and its programs.

During this time Cultural Survival research continued also through its Scholars and Specialists Network, established in 1991. The Network originally consisted of some 150 anthropologists, ethnologists, and other scholars who “contributed timely and reliable data for the 1993 Cultural Survival Publication, the State of the Peoples: A Global Human Rights Report on Societies in Danger.” Before being abandoned, the Network database contained the names and contact information of over 1,000 scholars, and was used to circulate research, news received by indigenous groups, and position papers.

Cultural Survival also played a limited role in the 1992 British and US public television video series Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World hosted by and focusing on the work of David Maybury-Lewis. Although some Cultural Survival staff hoped to see the organization play a larger role in the series, ultimately Cultural Survival’s contribution was limited to promoting the series to its networks of members and at several publicity events across the nation.

During the 1990s, Cultural Survival increasingly devoted time and attention to its educational programs. The Curriculum Resource Program developed curricula about ethnic diversity and indigenous peoples in the US and around the globe intended for use by middle and high school students. Curricula were tested with students from New England high schools and used to organize student conferences. At these Cultural Survival-run conferences, students were able to meet indigenous people and activists, and discuss issues affecting indigenous peoples outside of the classroom.

In addition, Cultural Survival has been widely known for its publications. Cultural Survival Quarterly, which started as Cultural Survival Newsletter from 1976-1981 and has existed in its current form since 1982, has an international readership and has been widely circulated in schools and universities. In addition to Cultural Survival Quarterly, Cultural Survival has had several series of publications, including Reports, Special Reports, and Occasional Papers, as well as online outlets such as Active Voices and the Ethnosphere.

In 2004, Cultural Survival hired Ellen L. Lutz, a human rights attorney who previously taught at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as its Executive Director. Lutz led the organization from 2004-2010. Under her leadership, Cultural Survival went through a strategic planning process, stabilized financially, increased the number of indigenous members on its Board of Directors, and placed increased focus on emphasizing indigenous human rights globally. During this time, Cultural Survival also began sponsoring the Guatemala Radio Project, an effort with Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations to create a network of originally over 160 Mayan community radio stations in Guatemala. In 2007, Cultural Survival partnered with Native American organizations and tribal governments “to persuade the United States Congress to fund legislation providing federal support for language immersion programs.” In 2009, Lutz also oversaw the merger of Cultural Survival and Global Response, a similarly focused nongovernmental organization.

In 2007, Cultural Survival also saw the passing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a landmark event that Cultural Survival had worked toward from its early days, as it had actively worked toward the UN passing a resolution in 1992 regarding the International Year of the World's Indigenous People in 1993.

Since 2010, Suzanne Benally (Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa), who was previously Associate Provost and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Naropa Univeristy, has served as the Executive Director of Cultural Survival. The current Deputy Executive Director, Mark Camp, has been with Cultural Survival since 1998, when he started as the organization’s Membership Coordinator and the editor of Cultural Survival Voices. As of 2014, Cultural Survival’s current programs include “support and expansion of Indigenous owned and operated community radio, … support and advocacy for community based language revitalization programs”; Cultural Survival Quarterly; Bazaars; the Global Response Program; and the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent Initiative, which seeks to increase “awareness and understanding of this right through community media and community exchanges.”

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

Cultural Survival Records

Call Number: MS180
Scope and Contents: This collection contains project files, correspondence, administrative and financial records, publications, audio tapes, video tapes, curricula, photographs, slides, and promotional materials created by Cultural Survival. Also included in the collection are a number of publications and audiovisual materials created by indigenous peoples and sympathetic non-profit organizations and subsequently collected by Cultural Survival staff. The bulk of the material dates from 1979 to 2005. Many of the...
Dates: bulk 1979 -- 2005, 1919 -- 2013

Ellen Lutz, Executive Director, Cultural Survival, office 'faceboard', 2004

 Item — Box: 21
Call Number: MS177.008.021.00003
Scope and Contents: This series consists of correspondence, reports and petition materials dating from 2000 to 2010. Most of the material concerns a 2008 petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights titled “Human Rights Violations by the Government of Panama Directed Against Ngobe Indigenous Communities and Individuals in the Changuinola River Valley, Bocas Del Toro, Panama.” The petition was drafted by Lutz, and Cultural Survival was one of the petitioners. A few folders contain general literature...
Dates: 2004