cultural survivalThere are about 476 million Indigenous people in the world, just over 6% of the global population. Also known as First Peoples and Tribal Peoples, they are present on every continent except Antarctica. Indigenous people belong to about 5,000 distinct groups. Though the term “Indigenous” is not an exact science, it generally refers to groups of people who originally inhabited an area prior to colonial influence. Despite colonialism, they have achieved varying degrees of cultural survival by preserving the use of their languages, ancestral traditions and ways of knowing. Organizations like Cultural Survival also support this preservation.

Cultural Survival was founded in 1972. Its work now follows the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), adopted in 2007. Based in Massachusetts, this organization aims to streamline social justice efforts by connecting Indigenous people’s needs to resources. Indigenous people often have a hard time accessing resources due to isolation, linguistic barriers or lack of political representation. Here are five ways that Cultural Survival empowers Indigenous people.

5 Key Ways Cultural Survival Empowers Indigenous People

  1. Advocacy: When it comes to advocacy, Cultural Survival responds to real needs expressed by a particular community. According to the UNDRIP, “States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for … Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.” An example of such dispossession might include state-sanctioned projects involving mining or deforestation, which threaten a community’s land. In these instances, the Indigenous community on its own may not have direct access to policymakers. Cultural Survival, on the other hand, has had the privilege of consultative status with the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC) for the past 15 years. It also has offices in North, Central and South America, as well as South Africa and Nepal. This wide reach provides quicker access to resources that can more effectively enforce the UNDRIP.
  2. Grants for community development: Cultural Survival also makes grants accessible for development-focused programs. These programs may relate to environmental justice, female empowerment, language preservation, Indigenous representation in policymaking and more. The Keepers of the Earth Fund makes these grants available in amounts between $500 and $5,000. In March 2020, the Keepers of the Earth Fund went exclusively toward the COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities. So far, it has been able to provide direct aid amounting to more than $81,000. This has reached Indigenous communities in 16 countries.
  3. Fair trade partnerships: Cultural Survival connects Indigenous artisans and creators directly to consumers through their annual “bazaars.” These bazaars showcase Indigenous music, jewelry, household items, art and other products. Usually, New England hosts the events. However, in 2020, Cultural Survival opted for a “virtual bazaar” to keep people safe from COVID-19. This allowed it to connect Indigenous makers to a wide audience of consumers.
  4. Media: Additionally, Cultural Survival publishes a magazine called Cultural Survival Quarterly (CSQ). This publication brings matters of concern of Indigenous communities to the attention of the public. The organization also nurtures expertise in radio journalism and broadcasting by connecting young Indigenous people with conferences. By training them, the organization prepares Indigenous youth with the skills they need for a career in media and advocacy. In particular, the Indigenous Community Media Youth Fellowship Project offers fellowships up to $2,500 for young people to learn about broadcast journalism. The Community Media Grants Project also makes funding available to bolster already-existing community radio projects. These projects benefit communities all over Latin America, East Africa, South Africa and South Asia
  5. Community Radio: Cultural Survival’s funding for COVID-19 includes community radio. This has recently made a difference in Indigenous communities of Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others. These programs are vital not only for language preservation but also to ensure that correct information about the pandemic reaches Indigenous communities. This is important, as these communities may not be proficient in the country’s official language or may have limited broadband connection. To complicate matters, Indigenous community radio has been outlawed in several places. In Guatemala, for example, the government claims there are not enough frequencies to accommodate Indigenous radio stations. Cultural Survival continues to fight to support community radio programs and policy changes in Guatemala. Importantly, it also offers legal representation to individuals when necessary. Indigenous leaders have officially requested that a law, Bill 4087, legalize an Indigenous-language radio station for each municipality. Cultural Survival continues to support this effort.

The Future of Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival requires continuous support to maintain its mission to defend the UNDRIP. Although every Indigenous group possesses the right to be both autonomous and involved in state affairs that affect them, political leaders do not always observe these rights. Cultural Survival is one-of-a-kind in its commitment to defending Indigenous ways of life. With support, it can continue to use its global reach to fast-track solutions to the unique needs of Indigenous people around the world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

Latin American Indigenous CommunitiesModernization has been pushing Latin American indigenous communities into progressively smaller bubbles. This causes many to lose important aspects of their cultures such as language and tradition. On this same note, many international governments only provide federal funding to indigenous communities if they follow certain guidelines. This has made the preservation of indigenous cultures increasingly more difficult as the years go by. The preservation of indigenous cultures is of course important at its core. However, what is equally important is who is controlling the narrative.

Modern Indigenous Struggles

Many indigenous communities are struggling to balance modernization with the preservation of their rich cultural histories. Although the numbers have been improving, Latin American indigenous communities are still very vulnerable. They also experience higher rates of poverty than their non-indigenous peers. Now many wonder about how this problem can be fixed.

Storytelling as a Possible Solution

Many people are interested in learning about Latin American indigenous communities. However, an ethical approach to this requires an administrative role in the production of any film depicting their culture. This important realization was introduced to the National Film Board in 1968 by the Company of Young Canadians and the National Film Board’s Challenge for Change program. This partnership saw the potential to elevate the voices of marginalized people, allowing them to control their own narratives and advocate for themselves.

A New Indigenous Storytelling Platform

August 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. To commemorate the occasion this year, the People’s Planet Program launched a new platform called Tribal Stories. This platform amplifies the pieces created by indigenous filmmakers in the A’i Cofan community of Ecuador and the Kīsêdjê community of Brazil.

Initially, the founder of the People’s Planet Program, Abdel Mandili, was interviewing indigenous community members to produce his own documentaries. However, he quickly realized the importance of allowing these communities to control their own narrative. He then transformed the People’s Planet Program into a nonprofit organization that focuses its efforts on providing indigenous communities with the tools to document their story and a platform to promote it.

The People’s Planet Program engages in educational workshops and provides film equipment to these communities. Nonetheless, it allows the communities to advocate for the causes important to them. For example, many indigenous communities find themselves on the frontlines of deforestation, pollution and other business practices that negatively impact their communities. They have pivotal insights that many other communities do not.

In tandem with this, the People’s Planet Program helps connect indigenous communities with political activists and legal counsel. They aid them in their fight for equal representation and land rights.

When engaging in international advocacy, it can be quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your actions always reflect your intentions. Most of the time, this is true. However, taking a step back and allowing marginalized groups to speak for themselves is a crucial aspect of international advocacy. An important aspect of advocacy is providing people with the tools to better their societies on their own terms.

– Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr