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Daniel Lavelle: U.S. Director of Survival International

Daniel Lavelle’s job is to fight for the rights of tribal populations, who are often overlooked and face intense discrimination. Survival International works to protect tribal groups around the world by campaigning for land rights, exposing government malpractices, and bringing tribal voices into the spotlight. We sat down with Daniel to talk about how tribal rights are human rights. Check out their website here, where you can learn more about the incredible work they do.

What does Survival International do to protect tribal populations?

All around the world, indigineous and tribal peoples are facing land theft, violence, and destruction of their environment from loggers, miners, oil companies, and those that are looking to profit from their resources. For over 50 years now, Survival International has worked in partnership with these communities to support their struggles and defend their lives. We document and expose the atrocities that are committed against tribal peoples, and try to take direct action to stop them. We lobby governments to recognize indigineous land rights, which are critical to human diversity and the earth’s biodiversity that we all depend on. A big component of what we do is help provide indigenous and tribal peoples with a platform to let the world know what threats they’re facing, and how others can support their struggles. We take indigenous voices that aren’t heard in international media and put their voices front and center, so people can know what’s going on, hear their perspectives directly, and then be inspired to be part of the solution. Tribal peoples have proven to be the best guardians of the natural world. Ensuring their land rights is often the best and least expensive way of protecting places like the Amazon rainforest.

As a director, what does your job entail?

To put it in the context of a specific case, I’ve been working with indingenous allies in places like Brazil where there’s active destruction of indigenous land by loggers, ranchers, and the anti-indigenous government. I support their organizing, their political actions, and their protests. Indigenous people are the ones on the front lines of environmental destruction, and the ones making daily sacrifices in defense of their land and lives, so I work to amplify their strength. For example, the President of Brazil has tried to push through many anti-indigenous policies and sees the Amazon Rainforest and indigineous land as a source of wealth that people are standing in the way of. His policies are, for many people, an existential threat. As a director, it’s critical for me to give attention to cases like this and try to mobilize people to fight this injustice. Many people aren’t aware that there are still over 100 uncontacted tribes that are living in Brazil, who are the most vulnerable people on the planet if this land invasion and destruction continues. They represent a very important piece of human diversity on the planet, and I work with Survival International to protect that.

In an ideal world, what do you see as the future of Survival International?

In an ideal world, we work ourselves out of a job. We hope to create a world where Survival International isn’t necessary, where indigineous and tribal people have the voice and the self-determination that they have a right to. We’re building that power for them, where we become obsolete. In order for that to happen, a wide set of things need to change. We need a fundamental shift in the world of thinking around indigenous peoples and tribal peoples, where they are no longer viewed as relics of the past, but as contemporary societies who have a different way of living. There are political barriers and economic changes that need to happen, where resources aren’t plundered, where rights are respected, and where we value different human societies in a meaningful and respectful way.

Do you have any advice for young professionals who want to make a difference?

Think about your use in the world, think about different communities, and be skeptical of the slick, expensive, technologically based solutions that might come into vogue from time to time. Real, lasting solutions need to be led by the community, not by billionaires or panels of powerful people. I often need to remind myself that the idea of having the option to “give up” is a luxury— many people, including indigineous and tribal peoples, don’t have that option, and we have to think of them.


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