Indigenous cultures the world over have diminished due to forced assimilation or willful integration. Many that remain in separation suffer from encroachment, external pollutants, and pervading views that traditional ways are illegitimate and irrelevant.

In the 21st century, 3,000 of the 6,000 existing world languages are doomed to extinction because no children speak them. - Kenneth Hale, Linguist (MIT)

"[Our way of life] is only one possibility. These other cultures are not failed attempts to be us; they are . . . other options, other visions of life itself." - Wade Davis, Anthropologist (National Geographic)
Implication: Loss of Wisdom

Only 1,100 of the earth's 265,000 species of plants have been thoroughly studied by Western scientists, but as many as 40,000 may have medicinal value, many of which are in use by tribal healers.

- Michael Balick, Director (NYBG Institute of Economic Botany)
Implication: Loss of Diversity

"Only with diversity can it be guaranteed that all avenues of human intellectual progress will be traveled." - Kenneth Hale

"The 'ethnosphere', the sum total of all the thoughts, beliefs, myths, and institutions brought into being by the human imagination, is humanity's greatest legacy, embodying everything we have produced as a curious and amazingly adaptive species." - Wade Davis
Organizational Responses


"No national government and certainly no group of concerned scholars in a university can save a language or preserve a culture - this is for communities to do themselves.

"However, we can support communities to document their own traditions, and help build an environment for diverse cultural expressions to co-exist." - Mark Turin, World Oral Literature Project (Cambridge University)
World Oral Literature Project
Provides grants to researchers to document oral literatures from the world's most endangered cultures. Projects include:
  • Ceremonial Chanting, Vaupes Region, Colombia
  • Oral Literature Genres, Ifugao People, Philippines
  • Horchin Mongolian Folk Songs, Mongolia
Blue Earth Alliance
Provides support for documentary photographers who pursue stories that are often overlooked by the traditional media, including disappearing traditions and cultural roles in marginalized societies.

E.g. Bryan Watt's documentary of the life and culture of the Akha and Mlabri hill tribes of Laos and Thailand.
Springbok Films

An independent film production company committed to creating informative, enlightening, and entertaining films.

E.g. Vanishing Cultures: Bushmen of the Kalahari, which depicts the history and contemporary challenges of the San people.
Jan Reynolds

Publishes photographic records of cultural traditions from around the world, with the intent to promote cultural understanding among children.

"It is not change per se that threatens the integrity of the ethnosphere, nor is it technology. The Sioux Indian did not stop being a Sioux when he gave up a bow and arrow, any more than an American farmer stopped being an American when he gave up the horse and buggy." - Wade Davis
Vanishing Cultures Foundation
A humanitarian organization that "supports the indigenous peoples of Peru by preserving their spiritual lineage and supporting their economic development."

Projects involve skills training and infrastructure support for survival in a dynamic world, as well as medical care for individuals and livestock.

Promotes cultural awareness and acceptance of aboriginal cultures in Australia via long-term multi-media projects. Rather than documenting marginalized communities, they encourage cultural leaders to utilize media to create unique messages and perspectives.
Turning Point

Provides a virtual version of the traditional Native American "Talking Circle." Their hope is that such a forum will allow native and non-native Canadians to share culture, increase understanding, and transform the historical colonial relationship from "one based on domination to one characterized by balance and fairness."
National Geographic Society

Manages a World Cultures Fund that supports expeditions to document vanishing cultures and conserve antiquities in the most critical regions of the planet.

In addition, their All Roads Film Project provides an opportunity for indigenous and minority-culture filmmakers and storytellers to share their stories.