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Survival International is a human rights organization formed in 1969 that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples, seeking to help them to determine their own future. Their campaigns generally focus on tribal peoples' fight to keep their ancestral lands, culture and their own way of living. Survival works for the people who they call "some of the most vulnerable on earth". A part of their mission is to educate people from misconceptions that help justify violations of human rights against indigenous people, and the risks that they face from the advancement of corporations, governments and also good intentions based on an idea of "development" that is forced upon them. Survival believes that in fact their alternative way of living is not lacking, they represent a model of sustainability in the environment that they are a part of and they possess a rich culture from which we could learn. Their headquarters are in Londonmarker, and they have offices in Parismarker, Berlinmarker, Madridmarker, Milanmarker, Berkeleymarker and Amsterdammarker.


Survival international was founded in 1969 after an article by Norman Lewis in the UK's Sunday Times highlighted the massacres, land thefts and genocide taking place in Brazilian Amazonia.

It was the first in this field to use mass letter-writing, having orchestrated several campaigns in many different places throughout the world, such as Siberiamarker, Canadamarker and Kenyamarker. Several campaigns were able to bring change to government policies regarding the rights of local indigenous people. In 2000, this form of struggle was successful in driving the Indian government to abandon their plan to relocate the isolated Jarawa tribe, after receiving 150-200 letters a day from Survival supporters around the world. Shortly before that, the governor of western Siberia imposed a five year ban on oil drilling in the territory of the Yugan Khanty within weeks of Survival issuing a bulletin. Survival was also the first organization to draw attention to the destructive effects of World Bank projects - now recognized as a major cause of suffering in many poor countries.

Survival is the only international pro-tribal peoples organization to have received the Right Livelihood Award, as well as the Spanish 'Premio Léon Felipe' and the Italian 'Medaglia della Presidenza della Camera dei Deputati'.

Structure and aims

Survival works for tribal people's rights on three complementary levels: education, advocacy and campaigns. It also offers tribal people themselves a platform to address the world, while establishing a connection with local indigenous organization, with focus on tribal peoples with more urgent threat from contact with the outside world. The educational programs are aimed at the people in the western world, with the objective of "demolishing the myth that tribal people are relics, destined to perish through ‘progress’". Survival International seeks to promote respect for their culture and explain the contemporary relevance in preserving their way of life.

Today, Survival has supporters in 82 countries. Their materials are published in many different languages throughout the world. It is a registered charity in the United Kingdommarker and the equivalent in Francemarker, Italymarker and Spainmarker, and has the capacity of receiving tax-free donations in the United Statesmarker and in the Netherlandsmarker.

Survival refuses government funding, depending exclusively on the public for its support, in order to ensure freedom of action. All the people sent into the field belong to Survival International staff, and there is no sponsoring of volunteers or visitors of any kind. The projects which are run oversea, are carried and managed by the tribe itself.


Today there are more than 150 million tribal people worldwide, including at least 70 uncontacted tribes, living in 60 countries. Most of them have been persecuted, facing genocide by diseases, relocation from their homes by logging and mining, and eviction by settlers. Survival International supports these endangered tribes on a global level, with campaigns established in America, Africa and Asia. They select their cases based on a criterion the organization has established, which depends on a wide range of factors, such as the reliability and continuity of the information, the gravity of the situation the tribe in question is facing, the degree to which they believe their work can make a real difference, the degree to which improvements in this area would have a knock on effect for others, whether any other organization is already working on the case, and whether they are sure of what the people themselves want.
Countries which have indigenous peoples for whom Survival campaigns.
This map represents about 5 million indigenous people.
There are over 300 million indigenous people in the world, with an estimate over 100 uncontacted tribes.
Survival International considers that their rights of land ownership, even though recognized in international law, are not effectively respected, with tribes being subject to being invaded by activities such as oil, mining or logging companies, cattle ranchers, private or government ‘development’ schemes such as road-building and dams, or for nature reserves and game parks. Survival International also highlights in their education mission that beyond economic interests that have led to exploitive invasions of their lands, lies a problem of ignorance and racism that sees tribal peoples as "backward" and "primitive". Survival believes that in the long-term, public opinion is the most effective force for change.

The impact of the outside world on the existence of these people and the survival of their culture is described as being very dramatic. In Siberia, only 10% of the tribal peoples live a nomadic or semi nomadic life, compared to 70% just 30 years ago. In Brazil - where Survival International believes the majority of the world’s uncontacted tribes, probably more than 50, live - there are about 400 speakers for 110 languages. For authors such as Daniel Everett, this phenomenon represents a fundamental assault on the existence of people, as language expresses the way a group of people experience reality in a unique way, and it's a part of our common heritage. Ranka Bjeljac-Babic, lecturer and specialist in the psychology of language, describes an intrinsic and causal link between the threat of biological diversity and cultural diversity. This assault on indigenous peoples customs and traditions is described as a part of a larger assault on life, with its historical roots on colonization. Survival International highlights in their report, Progress can Kill, that the invasion of the Americas and Australia by Europeans eliminated 90% of the entire indigenous population in these continents. The threat of genocide continues to this day.

Most fundamentally, Survival believes that it is the respect for the right to keep their land that may allow them to survive. The issues of human rights and freedom depend on the land from which they can get their subsistence and develop according to their own culture. The interference with this basic need endangers their capacity to live sustainably.


Survival International campaigns for the uncontacted tribes in the territory of Peru, many unidentified indigenous people in Brazil, Russia, West Papua, and about 30 tribes in several countries in south America, Africa and Asia.

A common threat for the tribes Survival campaigns is the invasion of their lands for exploration of resources. This invariably leads to force relocation, loss of sustainability and forced changes in their way of living. Usually, this is accompanied by diseases from the contact with the outsiders for which they have an unprepared immune system - this threat alone can wipe out entire tribes. Logging and/or cattle ranchers have affected most of these tribes, from South America, Africa to Australasia. The Arhuaco, in Colombia, have drug plantations, associated with cross fire from guerilla wars between cartel and government interests. The Ogiek, in Kenya, have tea plantations, and the Amungme in Indonesia, the Bushmen in Botswana, the Dongria Kondh in India, and the Palawanmarker in the Philippines have mining fields.

Survival international has also pointed out in their campaigns against the assault on their way of living to the effect of the work of missionaries. The Arhuaco, Ayoreo, Aborigines, the Innu and several tribes in West Papuamarker have all suffered direct attacks on their culture from what, in the perspective of Survival, may constitute good intention, but nevertheless is destructive to their lives. The children of the Khanty and Wanniyala-Aetto have been kidnapped to be raised by foreign religions and culture. On the long run, these practices are successful in assimilating and destroying a group of people.

Beyond the genocide in consequence of diseases and hunger brought through the loss of dependence to the environment and to stolen fertile soils, some tribes have suffered campaigns of direct assassination. Most tribes in South America, such as the Awá, Akuntsu, Guarini and the Yanomami, have been murdered on sight by multinational workers, ranchers and gunmen for hire, while tribes in Africa and Asia have suffered waves of murder at the hands of the government. Survival International has pointed out to the tribe Akuntsu, where there are only 6 members left, as an example for what this threats represent in terms of eventually accomplishing a complete genocide of a people.

Survival International has called attention to the consequent rise in suicide from the exterior interference with their culture and direct persecution in tribes such as the Innu, Australian Aborigines and the Guarani. Suffering from the trauma of forced relocation, many tribal people find themselves in despair with living in an environment they are not used to, where there is nothing useful to do, and where they are treated with racist disdain by their new neighbours. Other social consequences from this displacement have been pointed out to alcoholism and violence, with campaigns reporting the cases of the Innu, Mursi, Bodi, Konsomarker and Wanniyala-Aetto. Tribal peoples are also more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Among the tribes with whom Survival International has campaigned, there has been reported rapes of girls and women by workers of invading companies in the indigenous tribes of Penan, West Papuanmarker tribes, Jummas and Jarawa.

The government role in these territories varies. Most Brazilian tribes are protected under law, while in reality there has been resistance in policies and strong support for enterprises that carry out this threats on their existence. In Africa, the tribes of the the Bushmen and other tribes have been persecuted with beating and torture to force relocation, as well as murder in the Nuba, and in the Bangladesh, Asia, with the Jummas. Sometimes governments offer compensations that are believed by Survival to be unwanted alternatives for the tribes, portrayed as "development".


Survival International has received some attention in the media over the years with the campaigns and work of volunteer supporters. Some celebrity endorsements include Richard Gere, who has spoken up for the Jumma of Bangladesh, Julie Christie, who gave a Radio 4 appeal on behalf of the Khanty of Siberia, Dame Judi Dench, who warned of the events surrounding the Arhuaco of Colombia, and Colin Firth, who spoke out against the eviction of the Bushmen tribe.

However, the media has not always come in hand with the agenda of the organization. In 1995, Survival International saw its advert banned by the Independent Television Commission, citing the Broadcasting Act 1990, which states that organizations cannot advertise their work if it is wholly or mainly of a political nature. The Survival ad featured Richard Gere and was broadcast on the music cable channel The Box and the MTV satellite offshoot VH-1. Gere urged viewers to help to stop the slaughter and exploitation of tribal people. Another controversy was ensued after the publication of an article that cast doubt over the Survival's reporting of an uncontacted tribe in Peru, where it was presented a picture with tribesmen firing arrows up at an aircraft. After a heated confrontation that dragged for a couple of months, with threats of taking Survival to court for libel, the newspaper, The Observer, on August 2008, ended up conceding that it had got the story wrong.

How much attention we should give Survival's perspective in the media is also an issue. The Government of Botswana, with whom Survival has had a long battle over the reality of the Bushmen tribe, has complained that their side of the story is not nearly as covered by the mainstream media as its opponent. At the origin of this response is an article that alleges that the Botswana government "has instructed all departmental heads in the state media to ensure that any negative reporting on the controversial relocations from the Central Kalahari Game Reservemarker (CKGR) should be contrasted strongly with freshly-sought government statements."

Survival International encourages supporters to spread awareness on indigenous rights issues through several mediums. In the guide Walk your talk, the organization gives tips on a variety of actions, from writing letters to governments, to spreading the word through sponsorships, leaflets, demonstrations, film shows, and collecting money from a variety of events, as well as many other advices.

See also


  1. Survival International website - About Us
  2. The Right Livelihood Award - Survival International (1989)
  3. Survival International website - About Us/Work for Survival
  4. Survival International website - Tribes
  5. Survival International website - About Us/FAQ
  6. Survival International website - Campaigns
  7. Survival International website - Tribes/siberian
  8. Survival International website - Tribes/brazilian
  9. 6,000 languages: an embattled heritage
  10. Progress Can Kill: How Imposed Development Destroys the Health of Tribal Peoples
  11. Survival International website - Uncontacted Tribes campaign/Threats
  12. Survival International website - Uncontacted Tribes campaign/Threats
  13. Ministry responds to Mmegi article Republic of Botswana website
  14. Survival International website - Act Now/walk your Talk

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