We are Survival, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights.
We’re the only organization that champions tribal peoples around the world. We help them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.
Tribal peoples have developed ways of life that are largely self-sufficient and extraordinarily diverse. Many of the world’s staple crops and drugs used in Western medicine originate with them, and have saved millions of lives. Even so, tribal peoples are portrayed as backward and primitive simply because their communal ways are different. Industrialized societies subject them to genocidal violence, slavery and racism so they can steal their lands, resources and labor in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘civilization’.
Our work is preventing the annihilation of tribal peoples. We give them a platform to speak to the world. We investigate atrocities and present evidence to the United Nations and other international forums. We support legal representation. We fund medical and self-help projects. We educate, research, campaign, lobby and protest. And we won’t give up until we all have a world where tribal peoples are respected and their human rights protected.
We depend on you. We need your money, energy and enthusiasm to help us fight one of the most urgent and horrific humanitarian crises of our time.
Who are our supporters?^
Ordinary people in about 80 countries around the world. Our materials are never restricted only to those who can pay. We believe public opinion is the only effective force which can bring permanent change, and so we want as many people as possible to know about tribal peoples and the problems they face. We also have well-known ambassadors.
Where does our money come from?^
Our offices all have charitable/not-for-profit status. Almost all our money (about 80%) comes from our supporters and concerned individuals. Most donations are small, which means we are not dependent on a few larger donors. About 250,000 individuals have helped us financially over the years. About 10% of our income comes from a few trusts and foundations. The remainder comes from our merchandise.
We do not take national government money because governments are the main violators of tribal peoples’ rights, and we will never be influenced by their priorities. We will not accept funds from corporations which might also violate tribal peoples’ rights.
Who are ‘tribal peoples’?^
Peoples who have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and who are different from the mainstream and dominant society. Tribal peoples form a part of the wider category of indigenous peoples. Read more on terminology →
There are about 100 uncontacted peoples in the world, who have no peaceful contact with wider national society. We believe there should be no incursions on their lands, as they cannot give informed consent to contact, and history shows that devastation invariably follows.
Are tribal peoples like our ancestors?^
No. The ancestors of today’s tribal peoples migrated over thousands of miles, for tens of thousands of years, and lived in countless different environments. They have successfully adapted many times – as have Europeans – living by different mixes of scavenging, gathering, food growing, hunting, and herding. There is no ‘natural progression’ from hunting towards farming, and agriculture does not necessarily lead to a ‘better’ life. The idea that today’s tribal peoples are ‘like our ancestors’ originates with a wrong application of Darwinism, colonialist prejudice, and the supposed superiority of Europeans. Although widely believed, it can easily be shown to be false.
‘Brutal Savages’ or ‘Noble Savages’?^
We do not believe that tribal people, in general, are more or less ‘noble’ than industrialized societies. No one has ever proven that they are any more ‘brutal’. Assertions that, in general, tribal peoples live with chronic warfare, and are more violent than ‘we’ are, have been discredited just as much as they have been promoted. For more on the ‘Myth of the Brutal Savage’ →
We recognize that many societies, including some tribal ones, incorporate cruel practices which are not based on consent. We never condone them. Although some of these (such as female genital mutilation and infanticide) are used to attack tribal rights, this is wrong as they are also found in industrialized societies.
What problems do tribal peoples have?^
Tribal people are still violently attacked and killed, all over the world. Self-inflicted violence, 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).
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on violence →
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.
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on land theft →
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.
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on racism →
All peoples are changing all the time, but change forced on tribal peoples in the name of ‘progress’ results in a far lower quality of life than before, with increased illness, suicide, imprisonment, substance abuse and dependence etc. Changes must be under the control of the people themselves.
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on development →
Even where the land itself isn’t taken, its resources (timber, minerals, hydro-power etc.) often are.
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on resource theft →
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.
See an extract from the book Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world on slavery →
How do we stop crimes against tribal peoples?^
We create campaigns, often lasting for many years, to secure the lands of specific tribal peoples. We also educate and change public opinion to be more understanding and supportive of tribal diversity. We generally focus on the most vulnerable peoples – those who have the most to lose, and who are less able to articulate their own views to outsiders: they are often the least contacted by wider society and face destruction from disease and land theft.
We expose the situation by putting the issue in the media (newspapers/television/radio/web etc.); we also monitor the media to counter false stereotypes which portray tribal peoples as ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’.
We present cases to the UN and other international bodies.
We support legal work to ensure tribal peoples are expertly represented.
We produce educational materials for non-specialists that show who tribal peoples really are and how they live.
We fund medical and self-help projects directly with tribal people.
How can you help?^
These tribes don’t want charity, clothing or food parcels. They have lived self-sufficient lives for thousands of years.
They do need voices, like yours, to join their own in combating big business, the banks and corrupt governments that threaten to destroy their right to a future.
Get email from Survival →
Make a donation, however small. We depend on thousands of donations. This gives us complete independence and preserves our absolute integrity, ensuring we never adjust our message or work to suit donors.
Fundraise for us.
Become a campaigner. You’ll receive information about:
→ Signing our petitions. They shame governments and companies into action and also attract media attention.
→ Writing to those in power. Our campaigns generate thousands of letters and emails. There are always people within the governments or companies concerned who are sympathetic and your letters prove it’s an important international issue. Letters are a powerful expression of public opinion. They have always proved an effective tool for securing change.
→ Attending our peaceful vigils and protests. They are always polite and never violent.
Buy our merchandise.
Follow us on Facebook.
Don’t support or invest in companies which violate tribal peoples’ rights. Boycott them.
Don’t support tourism to parks or conservation zones where tribal peoples have been dispossessed. Boycott them.
Monitor the press/politicians etc. for racist remarks. Tell them to Stamp It Out, or ask us to.
Recruit others. Minorities will only get justice when people speak up for them.
Isn’t our cause doomed?^
Not at all: we have been in the forefront of hundreds of successful campaigns. We define two or three specific objectives in each case we ‘adopt’, and often achieve them (though it may take years).
A good example was the creation of the Yanomami Territory in Amazonia. The campaign started in Brazil in the 1970s and we led the action internationally. Yanomami land was finally approved by the government in 1992. Yanomami spokesman, Davi Kopenawa, says his people wouldn’t have survived without us.
Another example is that there would now be no Bushmen living in the Central Kalahari in Botswana if it weren’t for Survival.
We have also moved public attitudes generally towards being much more supportive and understanding of tribal peoples.
The anti-slavery movement fought against apparently insuperable odds and eventually permanently changed the ancient idea that slavery was both normal and good for all (including slaves). We aim to do the same for tribal peoples.
Many people believe that tribal peoples are doomed to disappear under the inexorable march of ‘progress’. But tribes are not destroyed as an inevitable result of history: they are victims of the criminal theft of their land and resources. If their lands are not stolen from under their feet, most are not fragile: they are just as capable of surviving and adapting to new circumstances as any of us.
Are we against progress?^
Not at all: we believe that all peoples change all the time, but that tribal peoples’ futures should be decided primarily by themselves. ‘Development’ which destroys people is not real progress. This position is now endorsed by the United Nations and international law, and we believe all countries must uphold the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well as ratify and apply the Indigenous & Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169). Both assert tribal peoples’ right to own their lands. Without this, all other human rights are denied them, because they will not survive.
What does the law say?^
Companies and NGOs (including those involved in ‘conservation’) operating in tribal areas must adopt a binding commitment to take no action without the free, prior and informed consent of the tribal people concerned. Importantly, such consent can obviously never be free and informed unless the people are advised that they have the right to withhold their agreement without facing repercussions.
Do we represent tribal peoples?^
Not unless they ask us to. More generally, we publicize their voices and consider them our partners. We provide a platform for their representatives to talk directly to an international audience, and help them interact face-to-face with companies and organizations violating their rights.
How do we spend the money?^
Our resources are allocated to our educational, research and outreach work, with very little spent on administration. Not a single penny is wasted.
We do not claim that most of our money goes to tribal peoples themselves – it doesn’t. However we do manage certain 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 report.
Who governs us?^
Although Survival works as a single movement, our offices are governed by their own boards.
Our loyalty is always primarily towards tribal peoples; we pass on any helpful information we have, and only accept information on that basis.
Who are our staff?^
As well as those who volunteer with us, we now employ about 40 staff and interns in offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Madrid, Milan, Paris and San Francisco. Our offices all have charitable status, and function as a unified organization, operating in seven languages. Staff includes regional experts with direct experience of, and contacts in, hundreds of tribal communities.
Many of our staff remain anonymous for their own safety. This also makes it harder for governments to block our access to tribal peoples.
We don’t have offices where tribal peoples live. This means we are never pressed to change our work in order to protect our staff from threats they might receive.
Because we are primarily a movement opposing crimes that stem from our own society (though we also have supporters in countries where tribes live, including some tribal individuals themselves). We have no formal requirement for indigenous or tribal individuals to comprise our committees or staff, although they help on both.
How did we start?^
We were founded in 1969 by a group of people appalled by the genocide of Amazon Indians. They were prompted by a newspaper article by the acclaimed writer, Norman Lewis, in Britain’s Sunday Times Magazine. For several years, Survival had little or no income and was run by volunteers.
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 work has been recognized with prestigious awards, including the alternative Nobel prize (Sweden).
See a list of famous supporters →
Who opposes us?^
Governments and companies wanting to dispossess tribal peoples to take their land or resources.
Military forces wanting to control tribal areas.
Extremist religious organizations wanting to coerce tribal people into conversion, irrespective of the harm done.
Extremist conservationist organizations wanting to evict tribal peoples from ‘conservation zones’, or end their way of life.
Many of those who wrongly believe that only western civilization has brought improvements in wellbeing.
Those on the extreme left who believe everyone should be the same; those on the extreme right who think there is a single ‘correct’ way to live.