Dr. Steeve Coupeau Goes One-on-One with Galina Angarova, Executive Director of Cultural Survival

11 min readAug 22, 2022

NYIHA MEDIA: What is your current role and what led to that?

GALINA ANGAROVA: My name is Galina Angarova. I come from the Abzai Clan of the Ekhirit Nation of the Buryat People. I identify myself as an Indigenous woman, an Indigenous rights activist, a climate justice and land rights’ activist, and I serve as the Executive Director of Cultural Survival. I was born and raised in a community in rural Siberia, about 60 km away from Lake Baikal, which is the largest freshwater lake in the world containing 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and an important sacred place for my people.

We, Buryats, are Native people who live on both sides of Lake Baikal. We have a distinct culture, our own language and traditional ways of life that are currently threatened by cultural, political, and environmental changes. Our culture is based upon strong philosophical ideas about the natural world and humans’ place in it, as expressed through enduring traditional practices including shamanism, animism and mythology. Buryats have understood the importance of keeping the world in balance through our cultural traditions that revere our ancestors as well as the air, waters, animals, and land.

I was raised in my community where I had an honor of learning about our Indigenous values and knowledge that guide me today in my everyday and professional lives. My love for the land, for my people, the lake, and nature led me to become an activist and an organizer working with Indigenous communities in Siberia and the Russian Far East, and later on with communities in many other parts of the world. I have been very lucky to meet, work with and learn from incredible Indigenous leaders from all over the world.

I’m happy to share a bit about some of the work that I’ve done and how it’s led me to my current role, and first I want to acknowledge that in my culture and in Indigenous cultures generally, we come from a perspective of the collective. In all of the work that I do, my goal is to represent my people and partners in larger Indigenous movements, our values of collaboration, collective well-being, and reciprocity, all built upon relationships. I use the tools at my disposal to advance these collective efforts and visions.

I came to Cultural Survival as the Executive Director in October 2019 with experience in grassroots organizing, campaigning, and movement building in Siberia and the Russian Far East. My work experiences also included serving as the Global Organizing Partner and Focal Point for the Indigenous Peoples Major Group at the United Nations from 2013 to 2016. My goal as the main negotiator for the constituency of Indigenous Peoples was to advocate the inclusion of key references to Indigenous Peoples in the outcome documents of Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, and World Conference on Financing for Development. I also led a team of Indigenous experts to provide input to ensure safeguards for Indigenous Peoples for the financial arm of the UNFCCC Green Climate Fund. Also, prior to joining the team at Cultural Survival, I was a grant-maker for a private foundation managing a portfolio of about 75 partner-grantees in Africa, South America, Canada, and the United States.

Having learned about other Indigenous cultures and ways of being and knowing as well as struggles and issues of Indigenous Peoples from many parts of the world influenced my belief that Indigenous communities are best equipped to protect their environments and this is why in my work I have always prioritized Indigenous place-based solutions and building relationships. For these and many reasons I mentioned earlier, I dedicated my life to advocate for Indigenous People’s rights and well-being, especially Indigenous women, and for that I am very grateful.

Executive Director Galina Angarova (Author Provided)

NYIHA MEDIA: Can you describe any concrete resolutions or achievements resulting from International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2022?

GALINA ANGAROVA: Going back to the history of the inception of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations General Assembly decided on 23 December 1994, in its resolution 49/214, that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed annually on 9 August. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations. So, every year since 1994, celebration is a milestone, every year that we are able to celebrate the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an achievement for all Indigenous sisters, brothers and relatives of all genders in seven bio-cultural regions.

Photo Credit: UN News

As for the World’s Indigenous Peoples Day 2022, it is really hard to say what specific achievement came out as a result of this day this year. But what really changed in the past decade as a result of Indigenous advocacy at every level, including global and local events such as Indigenous Peoples Day, is attention to the issues of Indigenous Peoples: more coverage of Indigenous Peoples in dedicated and even mainstream platforms, Indigenous rights and issues in general. But this is not where it should stop; it should manifest in real actions, such as the operationalization and implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), all of the 46 articles of the UNDRIP which serve as the north star in the implementation of our rights as Indigenous Peoples. These are the minimum standards agreed upon by representatives of Indigenous Peoples and nation states in 2007.

This year, August 9th was especially important for Cultural Survival and our partner organizations as we launched our new website: www.sirgecoalition.org — as part of the official public announcement of a new coalition to Secure Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in a Green Economy (SIRGE Coalition). Cultural Survival, First Peoples Worldwide, Batani Foundation, Earthworks, and the Society for Threatened Peoples came together to create a platform to champion a Just Transition to a low-carbon economy. SIRGE Coalition is advocating for government, corporate, and financial decision-makers to avoid the mistakes and harms of past resource development by protecting the rights and self-determination of Indigenous Peoples around the globe while transitioning to a new green economy, many of whom live on lands rich in transition minerals. While alternative energy technologies such as electric vehicles are often touted as “clean” alternatives to carbon-based energy, the minerals required for these technologies are currently mined in ways that are no cleaner, no less environmentally destructive, and no less in violation of Indigenous rights than traditional energy sources.

The SIRGE Coalition’s primary goal is to elevate Indigenous leadership through the creation of a broad coalition and the promotion of constructive dialogue. The coalition will uphold all rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories, and especially their rights to determine their own priorities as to their lands, territories and resources.

Cultural Survival is honored to be part of the SIRGE Coalition. We must center Indigenous Peoples’ and human rights as well as true, regenerative practices as we transition to the new green economy.

Healthy and sustainable economies should mirror healthy ecological systems. Healthy ecosystems are interconnected and resilient to change; they are interdependent and regenerate each other, rather than depleting and weakening the system. Indigenous Peoples have sustained diverse and complex societies with circular economies over millennia without defaulting to the sort of replacement extractivism that some of today’s renewable energy options entail.

An intentional and truly Just Transition will require a set of solutions including improving existing standards, reforming old mining laws, mandating circular economy practices, setting standards and meeting targets for minerals’ reuse and recycling, reducing demand and accepting de-growth as a concept and a pathway, and most importantly, centering human rights and the right to the Free, Prior and Informed Consent in all decision-making.

NYIHA MEDIA: How would you portray the power dynamics between indigenous populations and the dominant racial group in power in the United States and abroad? Do you see in the LandBack movement a favorable initiative to redress the legacy of land grabbing that affected many Native American tribes?

GALINA ANGAROVA: While the details of the relationships and power dynamics among dominant groups and Indigenous Peoples vary from place to place, these relationships continue to be dominated by dominant groups’ extractivist capitalist values, theft of land, and marginalization of Indigenous Peoples’ values and cultures. Many symptoms that Indigenous Peoples face today such as poverty, illness, violence, loss of language and culture, alcoholism, mental health crises, and violations of many basic rights stem from the root cause of Indigenous Peoples’ removal and dispossession from our lands and disenfranchisement from our political sovereignty through over 500 years of colonization, which is ongoing and which brings with it institutionalized racism, white supremacy, and extractive capitalism.

It bears repeating that colonialism is not over; the colonial mindset continues to be deeply ingrained in today’s institutions of business, government, academia, and even conservation. While as an organization we have to deal with the symptoms, we consider it our responsibility and priority to address the root causes. As we cannot undo colonialism, returning Indigenous Peoples’ autonomy and sovereignty of their Nations and lands, and self-determination is at the core of our approach.

The Land Back movement is an essential initiative and there have been many successes, including governments and individuals returning land to Indigenous Peoples, although there is of course a long way to go. More and more, thanks to the tireless efforts of Indigenous Peoples and those working in solidarity with us, people and governments who have benefited from the theft of Indigenous land are seeking ways to address those violations. Some recent examples include:

-New York State is returning over 1,000 acres of Onondaga Nation homelands to the Nation through an agreement between the state, the Nation, and the US federal government

-In Oct. 2021, over 9,000 acres of ranch land in Washington State were returned through a collaboration with conservation organizations to the 12 Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

As an organization, Cultural Survival supports communities to self-determine the best place-based solutions to challenges, guided by traditional knowledge, values, and principles inherited from their ancestors since time immemorial. The support we provide through our wrap-around support that includes joint advocacy, capacity building, communications and grant-making, is intended to assist communities in their self-determined approaches to defending their territories and vital ecosystems, preserve their languages and cultures, defend their freedom of expression, and build climate change resilience.

We aim to help keep land in Indigenous Peoples’ hands and help Indigenous Peoples remain on their lands and resist forced removal, land theft, and forced migration by supporting their livelihoods, land monitoring efforts, sustainable agriculture projects, and the maintenance and strengthening of their languages which house the knowledge and wisdom of generations.

NYIHA MEDIA: Are you working on any best practice in terms of addressing harmful stereotypes in the ways that indigenous populations are portrayed in the media?

GALINA ANGAROVA: Cultural Survival is an organization with a majority Indigenous staff and board, and our focus is on uplifting and promoting the work and stories that Indigenous Peoples and communities are leading. Our work addresses stereotypes by promoting Indigenous Peoples’ ability to tell our own stories. There are 476.6 million Indigenous people in 90 countries, belonging to 5,000 groups and speaking 4,000 languages. Indigenous Peoples are diverse but face the common challenge of struggling to access their rights in the face of centuries of colonialism. Our work welcomes the approaches, wisdom, and values of each community we partner with by honoring their self-determination to develop their own projects and solutions.

Our work also disrupts the current narrative that portrays Indigenous Peoples as victims and instead, positions Indigenous Peoples in our rightful place as agents of change and holders of knowledge and solutions. Cultural Survival is one of few global organizations that is led by Indigenous people on both board and staff levels. Our work is guided by the wisdom of our elders and ancestors both in our own communities and the global Indigenous movement. Most of our staff work from their own communities, allowing them to bring their own traditional knowledge and community relationships to the work of Cultural Survival. Our staff have intimate knowledge and relationships with the communities where they live and work and an understanding of their political, cultural and economic conditions.

We also work on specific campaigns to resist and put an end to violent representations of Indigenous Peoples. Much of this work takes place in Massachusetts, where Cultural Survival is headquartered, as part of our efforts to be good guests on the land. We work in collaboration with our partners at the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda. For example, we have advocated for and helped organize celebrations around Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in place of Columbus Day, in Cambridge, Boston, and surrounding towns. We also advocated for a change in Massachusetts’ racist state seal, which celebrates the colonial domination of an “idealized” Native figure. This campaign was successful and the state is currently working on redesigning the seal.

Photo Credit: UN News

We are also currently working to promote a bill to ban Native mascots at the MA state level. According to the Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda’s info sheet, “Decades of social science research show that Native American mascots (i.e., nicknames & logos) have serious psychological and social consequences for Native Americans. As stereotypes, these mascots do not accurately represent Native Americans, nor do they honor them. They reinforce one-dimensional stereotypes that overshadow the contributions, perspectives and struggles of contemporary Native American people.

For many Native Americans, these racial stereotypes are painful reminders of historical trauma and of the limited ways that others see them. Native American youth are particularly vulnerable to the dehumanizing effects of these mascots…When non-Native people are exposed to Native American mascots, this triggers negative and stereotypical views of Native Americans. These mascots normalize culturally insensitive behaviors and convey an inaccurate understanding of Native American people.”

This all contributes to preventing non-Indigenous people from understanding the truth about who Indigenous Peoples are and this country’s history, and to perpetuating current power dynamics and violence.

The MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda is also supporting three other bills. One is to “Celebrate and Teach Native American Culture & History,” whose “goal is to develop a curriculum by working with tribal nations in-state and ensure that all children in the schools attain cultural competence in understanding Native history, cultures and current issues.” Another is to “Protect Native American Heritage,” which “would ensure that Native American funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony (those of cultural, traditional or historical importance to their heritage) held in governmental, municipal or non-profit collections are not sold for profit.”

The third “Provid[es] for the creation of a permanent commission relative to the education of American Indian and Alaska Native residents of the Commonwealth” whose “Broader impacts…are the promotion of tribal self-determination by providing students with the opportunity to learn their heritage, languages and histories while preparing them for higher education.”




Media is powerful in shaping influence. NYIHA MEDIA is best positioned to influence readers because of its ability to raise awareness.