Who are we?
The movement for tribal peoples. Survival is the only organization working for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide.
We work with hundreds of tribal communities and organizations. We are funded almost entirely by concerned members of the public and some foundations. We will not take national government money, because governments are the main violators of tribal peoples’ rights, nor will we take money from companies which might be abusing tribal peoples.
About 250,000 supporters from nearly 100 countries have helped us financially; millions now routinely seek our information, published in seven languages. We never restrict our information or materials only to those who can pay. We want everyone to know about tribal peoples.
More about Survival
We were founded in 1969 by individuals appalled by the genocide of Amazon Indians. This followed a newspaper article by Norman Lewis in the Sunday Times Magazine.
We employ about 50 staff, interns, and volunteers in our offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris and San Francisco. We have not-for-profit/charitable or its equivalent status in relevant countries.
Survival works as a united organization, speaking with one voice. Many offices are governed by their own boards.
Survival ‘ambassadors’ are Gillian Anderson, Sir Quentin Blake, Julie Christie, Kurt Jackson, Mark Rylance and Pippa Small.
What are we here for?
We help tribal peoples protect their lives, lands and human rights. We oppose the racist attitudes which underpin the way tribal peoples are viewed, and seek to stop the illegal and unjust way they are treated.
We work to change racist attitudes towards, and false beliefs about, tribal peoples. Our vision is to foster an understanding of, and respect for, tribal peoples and the choices they make about their futures.
We catalyze a growing alliance of people around the world who support tribal peoples and their rights, and turn it into effective action.
What is our vision?
Our vision is for a world where tribal peoples are recognized and respected; an end to the unjust treatment tribal peoples are subjected to; and a world where tribal peoples are free to live on their own lands, safe from violence, oppression and exploitation.
We believe all countries must support and uphold, as minimum standards, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as ratify and apply the Indigenous & Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169).
We also believe all companies and organizations operating in tribal areas must adopt, as a formal and binding policy, the commitment that they will take no action without the free, prior and informed consent of the tribal people. This also applies to conservation organizations.
We stress that this consent can never be free and informed unless the tribal people are clearly told, at the beginning of any talks, that they have the right to withhold their agreement without facing negative repercussions.
We believe companies should not operate in tribal areas without first having clear, written, binding agreements, agreed only after the tribal people have obtained independent expert advice. We produce suggested texts for such agreements, drafted by experts.
We believe there should be no incursions into the lands of tribes who have no peaceful contact with outsiders, as they cannot give their informed consent.
What do we think about tribal peoples?
They know what’s best for themselves, and have the right to choose to live differently.
Tribal peoples are not backward, primitive or Stone Age. They have invaluable and unique knowledge of their environment, particularly plants and animals. Most of the world’s staple crops, feeding billions, were developed by tribal peoples. Many of the principal drugs used in ‘modern’ medicine originate with them.
Their survival is in the interest of all humanity. Their diversity shows us how alternative ways of living can be successful. They show us what is really shared by all human life, and what is just social conditioning.
Their disappearance is not inevitable.
We recognize that many societies, including some tribal ones, incorporate cruel practices which are not based on consent. We never condone them. Some practices (e.g. female genital mutilation, infanticide) are sometimes used to attack tribal rights. This is wrong: they are also found in non-tribal societies.
What are our guiding principles?
People’s sense of their own wellbeing is more important than political or economic gain.
‘Development’ projects which destroy people are not ‘progress’ and should not be tolerated.
Tribal peoples offer today’s world alternative values and ways of successful living; diversity is important.
The more tribal peoples are understood, the more they’ll be respected and the less they’ll be mistreated.
We do not try to ‘keep people as they are’, but to ensure they survive, so they can freely choose their own future. They cannot do this without their lands.
Public opinion is the only effective force which can bring permanent change. We aim to expand it to build on a movement which will really make a difference, for generations.
We never condone violence, or practices, however ‘traditional’, which are not based on free consent.
Background to our principles
The anti-slavery movement permanently changed the ancient idea that slavery was both normal and good for all (including the slaves). We aim to do the same for tribal peoples. They are not being changed by any ‘inevitable progress’, but are victims of the criminal theft of their land and resources.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Indigenous & Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) must be the minimum standards upheld everywhere. They assert tribal peoples’ right to own their lands. Without this, all other human rights are denied to them because they will not survive.
Our loyalty is primarily towards tribal peoples. We give them any helpful information we have: we never agree to confidential meetings with governments or companies. When we are asked to participate in such meetings, we stress that if we receive information which we believe will benefit tribal people, we will immediately give it to them.
What do we mean by ‘tribal peoples’?
Peoples who have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are different from the mainstream and dominant society.
There are about 150 million tribal individuals; but it is impossible to give a number of peoples, as this depends on how they are counted. For example, the British can be counted as one people or several.
There are tribal peoples living in all inhabited continents, in about 60 countries. Their ancestral lands are integral to their lives, providing their livelihoods and sustaining their ways of life.
Tribal people constitute about 40% of the wider category of indigenous people, which includes many who have now been deprived of their lands and self-sufficiency. The line between who is ‘tribal’ and who is ‘indigenous’ is not clear-cut.
There are about 100 ‘uncontacted peoples’ in the world, who have no peaceful contact with wider national society.
What problems do tribal peoples have?
Tribal people are still violently attacked, and sometimes killed, particularly in parts of South & Central America, Africa and Asia.
Violence, often self-inflicted, is also a big problem in wealthy countries, which have largely dispossessed their indigenous peoples (such as Canada and the USA, Australia and New Zealand).
In some areas, tribal people are still held in a form of slavery, called ‘debt-bondage’, where they are forced to produce raw materials to pay a supposed debt to an outsider.
The view that tribal people are ‘primitive’ and not able to make rational choices about their own future derives from a colonialist, racist ideology. It is still used to justify their dispossession.
Tribal peoples are generally self-sufficient and dependent on their land to provide their food and support their way of life. It also forms the bedrock of their identity. It is stolen for ‘development’, such as mining, dam-building, farming, etc., as well as for ‘conservation’ projects.
Even where the land itself isn’t taken, its resources often are. These can be timber or minerals.
All peoples are changing all the time, but changes forced on tribal peoples in the name of ‘progress’ result in a far lower quality of life than before, with increased illness, suicide, imprisonment, substance abuse and dependence etc. Changes should be under the control of the people themselves.
How do we work?
Survival focuses on the most vulnerable tribal peoples, those who have the most to lose. These are usually those less able to articulate their own views, and the least contacted by, or ‘integrated’ into, wider society. They often face complete destruction from disease and land theft.
We choose specific cases according to defined criteria, such as the urgency of the situation. Other criteria include a serious threat to the people’s lives or livelihoods, and a small, more vulnerable, population.
Cases lead to campaigns with clear objectives, such as securing communal land rights. Most campaigns last for decades.
We place the issue repeatedly in the widest possible media (newspapers/TV/radio/web etc.) exposing the violations, and asking people to voice their support.
We monitor the media and counter false and damaging stereotypes which portray tribes as ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’.
We support legal work to ensure tribes are expertly represented.
We produce educational materials for schools and the public, showing who tribal peoples really are and how they live.
We fund medical and self-help projects directly with tribal people.
Where is the tribal voice?
We publicize the thoughts and voices of tribal peoples and consider them our partners.
We provide a platform for tribal representatives to talk directly to an international audience.
We help tribal representatives talk face-to-face with companies and organizations violating their rights.
We do not claim to represent tribal peoples, unless they ask us to.
How do we achieve our objectives?
We investigate the atrocities committed against tribal peoples.
We are in direct, personal contact with hundreds of tribal organizations and communities (as well as many others) which give us information. These contacts are, where possible, fostered by extensive field visits which have continued for over 40 years. In some areas, we do not publicize these to avoid reprisals.
We expose the situation, telling the public what’s going on and focusing their concern into action which brings results.
Cases lead to campaigns with clear objectives, especially securing communal land rights.
We use the widest possible media (TV/radio/newspaper/web), circulating new material on a daily basis. We also publish our own books and reports, mostly aimed at the non-specialist, and make our own films.
We lobby governments, companies, missionary organizations etc.
We hold vigils and peaceful protests at embassies and corporations. In over 40 years of these activities, there has never been any violence.
Our supporters write directly to those violating tribal peoples’ rights.
We present cases to the United Nations and other international forums.
We speak at schools, universities, conferences etc.
We run a photographic library.
How do we spend supporters’ money?
Our resources are allocated to our educational, research and outreach work, with very little spent on administration. We do not claim that most of our money goes to tribal peoples themselves, it doesn’t.
We manage special funds where every cent raised goes to tribal peoples’ own projects.
Our accounts are audited to the highest standards; a summary is published in our annual review.
How can you help?
Send a donation, however small. We depend almost entirely on thousands of small donations. This gives us great independence: it ensures we never adjust our message or work to suit donors.
Keep up with news and events through our monthly e-news, twice weekly press releases, and/or daily website news. You can select how much, or how little information you receive. We will never give your address to anyone else.
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. The number of individuals who see our material is an indication of our strength: the more, the better. Governments and companies are much more likely to listen to tribal voices when they know that thousands of people support them.
Write directly to those in power. Our letter campaigns generate thousands of letters and emails, often within a day or two. Every voice counts. Often, some people within the governments we are protesting about are sympathetic and actually ask for these letters to be sent so they can prove it’s an important international issue.
Sign our petitions. We present them to governments and companies with hundreds of thousands of signatures. This can shame them into action; it can also attract media attention.
Don’t support companies which violate tribal peoples’ rights. Don’t buy their goods or shares. Boycott them.
Don’t support tourism to parks or other areas where tribal peoples have been dispossessed. Make a stand: boycott them.
Attend our peaceful vigils and protests. They are always polite and never violent. Those attending vigils have often been welcomed into the embassy they are protesting about.
Monitor the press/politicians etc. for racist remarks. Tell them to ‘Stamp it out’, or send us the information and ask us to.
Recruit others. Numbers are important. Minorities will only get justice when other people speak up for them.
Contribute to our photo library where your images help tribal peoples.
Does it work?
We have moved public and media attitudes towards being more supportive and understanding of tribal peoples.
When we began opposing the Botswana government’s attempts to evict Bushmen from their lands, the country’s press was largely opposed to us, arguing that the Bushmen must be ‘developed’ outside their areas, whether they liked it or not. Now, the Botswana media has a much better understanding of the issues and is generally sympathetic to the Bushmen.
We define two or three specific objectives in each case we take on: we often achieve them (though it may take years).
One of our biggest successes was the creation of the Yanomami Park in Brazil. The campaign started in Brazil and we led the international action, beginning in the 1970s. Yanomami land was finally approved by the government in 1992. Key Yanomami spokesman, Davi Kopenawa, says his people wouldn’t have survived without us.
Survival was at the forefront of the successful international campaign against plans by mining giant, Vedanta Resources, to mine bauxite on the sacred hills of the Dongria Kondh tribe.
Who agrees with us?
Many tribespeople have told us that they would not have survived without Survival International.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters from dozens of countries have helped us financially; millions of people routinely seek our information.
Our ‘ambassadors’ are: Gillian Anderson, Quentin Blake, Julie Christie, Kurt Jackson, Mark Rylance and Pippa Small.
Those who supported our purchase of our international office in 2001 included the Dalai Lama and the Prince of Wales.
Many prominent writers, artists and photographers contributed to our special anniversary book ‘We are one’. They included: Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Noam Chomsky, A.C. Grayling, Richard Gere, Jane Goodall, Germaine Greer, Damien Hirst, Peter Matthiessen, Don McCullin, George Monbiot, Carlo Petrini, Sebastiao Salgado, Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy and Desmond Tutu.
Amongst the prominent people who supported us in our early years were: Peter Cook, Julian Huxley, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Norman Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin, Spike Milligan, and Laurens van der Post.
Those who have given us exclusive designs for our sales goods include: Quentin Blake, Kurt Jackson, Joey L, Richard Long, Savannah Miller, John Rocha, and Pippa Small.
Our contemporary art auction in 1989 was supported by some of the world’s leading artists including: Bridget Riley, John Piper, Elizabeth Frink, Anthony Gormley, Peter Blake, Andy Goldsworthy, Sidney Nolan, Anish Kapoor.
TV presenter Bruce Parry created a fundraising album for us with some of music’s contemporary stars, including: KT Tunstall, will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas), Johnny Borrell (Razorlight), Tom Baxter, Mystery Jets, Brett Dennen and Jason Mraz, Yusuf Islam, Hot Chip, the Go! Team and Mike Oldfield.
Alexander McQueen said we were one of his favourite charities.
The line up for our 2010 benefit theatre event in London, organized by Mark Rylance, included: Gillian Anderson, Julie Christie, Mackenzie Crook, Sinead Cusack, Edward Fox, Emilia Fox, Derek Jacobi, Danny Sapani, John Sessions, Imelda Staunton, Juliet Stevenson, Zoë Wanamaker, James Wilby, Bruce Dickinson and Ian Paice.
Our work has been recognized with several prestigious awards. These include the alternative Nobel prize (Sweden/international), the Premio Leon Felipe (Spain), & the Medaglia della Presidenza della Camera dei Deputati (Italy).
Who opposes us?
Governments and companies which want to dispossess tribal peoples to take their land or resources.
Military forces which want to control tribal areas.
Extremist religious organizations which want to coerce tribes into conversion, irrespective of the harm done.
Extremist conservationist organizations which want to evict tribal peoples from ‘conservation zones’, or stop their way of life.
Many of those who wrongly believe that only ‘western civilization’ has brought improvements in wellbeing.