Over the past 10 years, more than half of Cultural Survival’s funds have supported field projects among indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities in the Third World. The final Cultural Survival Quarterly of each year includes a brief description of our approach to projects and project selection as well as an overview of projects funded during the year.
Cultural Survival’s Approach to Projects
Cultural Survival’s complementary program of field projects and research evolved from an understanding that people in small societies often become victims during periods of rapid change by being excluded from decision making, not through any inability or unwillingness to change. Genocide or other gross human rights violations often occur after a long process of social erosion and economic marginalization has weakened a group’s ability to defend itself. Terms such as assimilation and integration often serve to mask such processes, thereby making more palatable the destruction of the social fabric that binds a group.
Cultural Survival defines the term culture as a set of social mechanisms that gives a society its identity and allows it to comprehend its place in the -world and adapt to changing circumstances. This definition does not imply the preservation of some romantic status quo, but rather supports those mechanisms that permit a group to successfully adapt to change. 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 needs expressed by native peoples themselves, not to some outsider’s idealized image of an appropriate life. These ideas are consistent with the aspirations and demands of native peoples the world over.
Field projects generally assist groups that are undergoing radical social change and have reached critical crossroads in their social and economic evolution. Projects are selected to maximize such groups’ control over economic and social variables so that they are able to make key decisions regarding the future of their communities. Problems addressed by projects include land rights, natural resource management, legal services, economic development, and cultural studies and promotion.
Rather than design projects, Cultural Survival generally responds to requests for assistance from either indigenous communities or their regional organizations or support groups. Unfortunately, our budget permits us to fund only a few of the requests received. To increase the impact of our limited funds, we select projects that (1) address problems faced by many small societies and (2) allow for extensive documentation and analysis.
By addressing common problems we can respond to a few groups’ urgent needs and, at the same time, generate case studies useful in developing methodology and theory for future work elsewhere. Cultural Survival has also provided emergency assistance, such as medical supplies and travel funds to support research during periods of extreme crisis.
Cultural Survival’s primary goal is to help indigenous peoples retain control over decisions affecting their lives and future. Our support often includes funding their representative organizations, assisting them in obtaining secure land tenure, and providing technical assistance and training in resource management and economic development. Support provided by Cultural Survival-particularly to regional Indian organizations (ethnic federations) – often does not fund entire or discrete “projects.” Cultural Survival’s contributions generally support a single segment of a group’s overall program. In each case, however. Cultural Survival’s concern is with the entire organization, its program, and the projects that program creates.
Current and Future Projects
The overall philosophy of Cultural Survival’s approach to projects will remain unchanged. The list of projects supported in 1989 indicates the breadth of our activities; our commitment to such a range of projects will continue. However, in response to critical changes now facing indigenous people, Cultural Survival has focused on the following related activities: