Cultural Survival

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Cultural Survival (CS) was founded in 1972 by a group of Harvard social scientists, Cultural Survival is “concerned with the fate of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities, the traditional concerns of cultural anthropology, are facing extinction today because of the “greed and incomprehension” of advanced societies: “They are destroyed in the name of development programs they are presumed to hinder, or in the name of the nation-state they are assumed to subvert.”

CS was founded by Dr. David Maybury-Lewis (former chair of Harvard's Department of Anthropology), and he is also president of Cultural Survival Productions Canada Inc. (Dewar, 1995, p.62).

"Maybury-Lewis and his wife started Cultural Survival Inc. in the early 1970s to protest to a broader audience. They published a newsletter. The organization was run as a non-profit out of his office at Harvard by his wife. It didn't employ people until 1980 when it finally got grants from the Ford Foundation and USAID. USAID's interest in Cultural Survival was partly aroused by its literature and partly by its contacts. The USAID funds came from its Latin American office which had a certain grim past, including paying for training Latin American police forces in the techniques of repression.
"Cultural Survival began to grow when it joined the debate over Nicaragua's treatment of the Moskito Indians, who complained that they were oppressed by the Sandinista government. The Contras used this repression of the human rights of indigenous people as another rationale to garner U.S. Congressional support: in return, the Moskitos helped the Contras on the ground. Before the Boland Amendments began restricting the CIA from supplying the Contras, the CIA helped the Contras on the ground too, beginning in 1981, joining an initiative already launched by the Argentinian military. Cultural Survival's Ted Macdonald advised the Moskito leaders to end their war with the Sandinistas, according to Maybury-Lewis. During this period, Cultural Survival Inc.'s membership began to grow. Members were basically subscribers to the Cultural Survival Quarterly." (Dewar, 1995, p.63)

According to investigative reporter Dewar (1995): "Clay... said Cultural Survival Inc. had a budget of about $1 million, of which 60 per cent came from its thousands of members and the sale of publications, 30 per cent from other foundations, 10 per cent from governments. Cultural Survival was active in most countries in Central and South America, but events in Brazil had been the impetus for its creation in 1972. Cultural Survival mainly encouraged regional groups of indigenous people to look for money inside their own countries. "We don't want them to think the first solution is to write a proposal or to see the Pope with Sting," Clay said, sardonically. "We are setting up Cultural Survival in Canada. ... We just got a commitment from the Body Shops in Canada to contribute money to Brazil Indian projects. Now we will use it to raise matching sources."" (Dewar, 1995, p.29)

In addition to books, occasionally papers and special reports, CS has since 1976 published Cultural Survival Quarterly. CS has pressed primarily Western institutions to adopt measures protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, the organization has successfully lobbied the World Bank “to make it a condition of their loans that the rights of indigenous peoples and the needs of the environment be protected in areas where the loans would be applied”.
In its 15 years, CS has not addressed the issue of the Palestinians in any form, either as a national cultural group or as an ethnic minority subculture, whether in Israel, the occupied territories, or in the Arab countries. Nor, as far as can be determined, have any Palestinian subgroups (Bedouin, Druze, Circassians, women, peasants, refugees) been subject of a CS assistance project, research study, occasional paper or CS Quarterly.
In late 1984, Jason Clay, editor of CS Quarterly, in response to a query from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) asking why CS had not covered the Palestinians agreed to consider an article on the Palestinians. Two American researchers contacted by ADC, Clare Brandabur and Louise Cainkar, submitted an article in early January 1985. A month later a heavily edited version, already set in type, was returned to the authors with a note from Clay stating in part: “Finally, as is required by our Board of Directors, the piece will be sent simultaneously to two readers.” Editorial reviews usually precede setting articles to type. Clay added, “As their reviews come in, if necessary, I will forward their comments to you.” In fact, that was the last the authors heard from Clay, save for his final message that CS Quarterly was “not the appropriate place” for their article. It was never published.
Clay recently acknowledged that one of the readers “thought that the way the piece was written would entangle CS in a number of issues that could easily swamp the organization.” Clay also stated that “the Palestinians do not fall directly into the scope of Cultural Survival’s work. That reason is that the Palestinians as you discuss them (Israel, occupied territories, Lebanon) are more of a geographic designation than a cultural one”. CS Quarterly, though, has run scores of articles on national or regional cultural groups that clearly fall under his notion of “geographic designations,” such as “The Survival of Tibetan Culture” or “Nomads in Syria and Jordan.” In addition, CS has taken an avid interest in the Kurds to the point of sponsoring a special project in their behalf. The Kurds share in common with the Palestinians the status of a stateless people dispersed in several countries which to varying degrees oppose their respective quests for national independence and statehood.
Many issues confronting the Palestinian are regularly dealt with in CS Quarterly: refugees (Guatemala, Ethiopia, Afghanistan), resisting land grabs (Ecuador), military rule (Guatemala), relocation (South Africa), children and war (Uganda), violence against children (South Africa). An entire issue was devoted to “Parks and People,” without mention of Israel’s destruction of Palestinian villages to make way for its famous Canada Park and others, or its practice of declaring large tracts of Arab lands in the occupied territories national reserves.
—Nabeel Abraham, et al.; International Human Rights Organizations and the Palestine Question, Middle East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1988, pp. 12 – 20.

Cultural Survival: Funders

Key Staff

Accessed April 2010: [1]

  • Ellen L. Lutz, Executive Director
  • Mark Camp, is Cultural Survival’s Director of Operations and Director of the Guatemala Radio Project
  • Mark Cherrington, is Cultural Survival’s Director of Publications


Accessed August 2007: [2]

Program Council

Accessed August 2007: [3]


Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Staff, Cultural Survival, accessed April 16, 2010.
  2. Directors, Cultural Survival, accessed August 17, 2007.
  3. Program Council, Cultural Survival, accessed August 17, 2007.

External links

  • Elaine Dewar, "Cloak of green: the links between key environmental groups, government and big business", James Lorimer & Company Publishers, 1995.