Cultural Survival and Indigenous Rights

Big Question:

What is Cultural Survival? What sort of work do they do, why is it important, and how can I be involved?

Cultural Survival logo, in red.

Time estimate: 45 minutes

Personal Reflection: 

Do you know whose land you reside on? If so, what do you know about the people who originally lived on the land where you are? If not, explore Native Land’s crowdsourced interactive map by searching for your location. Please take a few moments to explore the map.

Why This Matters:

Indigenous Peoples have long inhabited and are the original keepers of the lands that many of us live on. Despite their existence from time immemorial, extractive colonial institutions have attempted to subjugate Indigenous Peoples through genocide, forcibly removing them from their lands, and separating them from their cultures. While Indigenous Peoples around the world have courageously withstood centuries of injustices, actively learning from Indigenous history and defending Indigenous rights is essential for the continued preservation and flourishing of Indigenous cultures.

Diving in, Part 1: Cultural Survival and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide, spanning 90 countries, belonging to over 5,000 different nations, and speaking over 4,000 distinct languages. Cultural Survival, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, “advocates for Indigenous Peoples’ rights and supports Indigenous communities’ self-determination, cultures, and political resistance since 1972”. 

Cultural Survival’s work is based on the principles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The declaration, formally adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, recognizes the violent colonial history Indigenous Peoples have experienced and outlines the rights of Indigenous Peoples today. Included in the declaration is the right of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination. Indigenous Peoples may govern their territories as they see fit, exercising political and economic sovereignty. With this, Indigenous Peoples have the right to practice their respective cultures. The declaration mandates that outside entities must consult with Indigenous Peoples and obtain their free, prior, and informed consent before acting in ways that affect Indigenous communities, such as implementing new legislation or using natural resources from their territories. Furthermore, Indigenous Peoples have the right to redress, through compensation or restitution, for lands and resources that have been damaged or stolen without their free, prior, and informed consent. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples goes on, including a total of 46 articles.

Please watch this nine minute video commemorating the 10th anniversary of UNDRIP in 2017 and reflecting on the ways that Indigenous Peoples are using the declaration globally:

10th anniversary UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Cultural Survival’s Advocacy Program, in partnership with local Indigenous organizations, regularly submits reports to the UN Human Rights Council and treaty body committees, in an effort to highlight the current status of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. The reports are often country specific and may include recommendations to improve conditions in the given region.

Reflection Question:

At 3:36 in the video above, Karen Johansen begins to explain how the Tribes of the Whanganui River negotiated with governmental authorities in New Zealand to confer legal personality on the river itself. How does thinking about a river as having a legal rights status expand or complicate your understanding of rights? What might the implications be in your community if non-human, natural entities were conferred legal status as rights-holders?

Diving in, Part 2: Indigenous Voices

Knowledge is Power! Please watch the brief introduction to the Indigenous Rights Radio program below:

Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Rights Radio: Because Knowledge is Power

A major part of Cultural Survival’s goal is to amplify Indigenous voices. By providing support, Cultural Survival aims to empower Indigenous communities around the world to establish their own radio stations, creating a lifeline for communities to communicate to one another, speak about their respective cultures, and report on the current events relevant to their communities. The Indigenous Rights Radio program is constantly producing new content in over 100 languages, including interviews, Public Service Announcements, and documentaries. Not only can Indigenous Peoples use radio as a tool to solidify knowledge about their rights throughout their communities, but they can also share information on how different communities are defending their lands, cultures, and languages.

World map depicting the distribution of Cultural Survival's Indigenous Rights Radio programs around the globe. Areas such as the United States, Australia, India, South Africa, and parts of South America are highlighted as having the most radio stations.

In addition to the radio program, Cultural Survival publishes a quarterly magazine and regular news articles. What are Indigenous and Aboriginal Peoples saying? Please take a few minutes to listen to an Indigenous Rights Radio program or read an article that interests you!

  • Learn from the short PSAs on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent

Reflection Question:

Now that you’ve engaged with some of the articles or radio programs, how does learning about and from Indigenous Peoples change your perspective on Indigenous issues? What was the most interesting? Was there anything that surprised you about what you learned? Is there anything you would like to learn more about?

Diving in, Part 3: How can I get involved?

Internship program and volunteer opportunities are available throughout the organization during the summer, fall, and spring either in-person or virtually. Students can work in positions spanning across several departments, including: bazaars, advocacy, research and publications, social media, and Indigenous Rights Radio. Alternatively, you can get involved in Indigenous rights organizations closer to you, in your hometown or in your local community.

Do you live in or around the New England area? If so, you can also attend one of Cultural Survival’s bazaars! These cultural festivals feature Indigenous artists from around the world and provide them with the opportunity to sell their work, perform their music, demonstrate their craft-making, and connect. If you’re not in the New England area, you can still support Indigenous artists at the bazaars through Cultural Survival’s first virtual, online format.

Cultural Survival Bazaar

Page completion – Outcomes: 

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of:

  • Indigenous rights as related to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples
  • Cultural Survival’s role in centering Indigenous Peoples, amplifying their voices, and serving as a platform for furthering Indigenous resilience
  • The different kinds of media and ways in which Indigenous Peoples can use media to defend and preserve their cultures
  • Ways you can be involved in supporting Indigenous rights, either with Cultural Survival or outside of the organization

Related Pages:

If you enjoyed this page and are interested in exploring topics adjacent to it, check out the pages on Cultural Humility and Power and Structural Violence.

Citation for this page: Belfi, E. (2020). Cultural Survival and Indigenous Rights. In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from


Amnesty International (n.d.). Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from,70%25%20%E2%80%93%20live%20in%20Asia.

Cultural Survival (n.d.) About Cultural Survival. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

Indigenous Rights Radio / Radio de Derechos Indígenas (n.d.). About. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

NativeLand.Ca (n.d.). Native Land – Our Home On Native Land. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

United Nations (n.d.) United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from

The World Bank (2019, September 24). Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from,worldwide%2C%20in%20over%2090%20countries. 

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

Cultural Survival (2016). Cultural Survival Bazaar [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cultural Survival. (2016, November 2). Cultural Survival’s Indigenous Rights Radio: Because Knowledge is Power [Video file]. Retrieved from

UN Human Rights. (2017, November 28). 10th anniversary UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [Video file]. Retrieved from