UM, SEN. DAN SULLIVAN NOT FEELING IT, AFTER IVORY BAN
Etsy, the online e-commerce platform for all-things-handmade (and all-things-faux-handmade), has reportedly been deleting the accounts of some Alaska Native artists and artisans or delisting the items made from ivory and otter fur. Alaska Natives have handcrafted and traded these items for thousands of years.
Etsy is like the Amazon of handmade stuff, a place where you can purchase, for instance, a hedgehog-themed yarn holder, pictured above.
Artists all over the world use Etsy, including many from Alaska, both Native and non-Native. Etsy takes a cut of every sale.
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan took exception to the company’s hardline against ivory and fur artisans, and wrote a stern letter explaining that these Alaskan artists were having their e-commerce accounts unfairly terminated or items delisted.
“I write to make you aware that Etsy has been unfairly terminating some of my Alaska Native (i.e., indigenous Alaskans) constituents’ accounts. Your company’s actions – due to your well-meaning, but frankly misguided policies and terms of service – are having unintended consequences that are harming Alaska Natives and their communities in my state,” Sullivan wrote to CEO Josh Silverman on Feb. 2.
Sen. Sullivan said he was trying to raise Silverman’s awareness of the problem, and explain the unintended consequences the policy is having in rural Alaska, where few jobs exist and some have been able to carve out a living by selling artwork made from the land.
“These are Alaska Natives who are legally selling sustainably harvested sealskin, sea otter, and ivory based art and clothing products. I understand your company has taken the position through your policy that these are ‘prohibited items.’ This policy seems to lack awareness and recognition that Alaska Natives have historically and legally created and sold these products as a key source of income in rural economies,” Sullivan wrote.
“This policy also discriminates against my constituents, denies them a prime forum to sell their sustainably produced goods, and falls short of your company’s stated mission. You claim “Etsy is the global marketplace for unique and creative goods … [and your] mission is to Keep Commerce Human.” By banning these products and denying Alaska Natives’ ability to exercise their statutory right to produce and sell authentic articles of handicrafts and clothing, your company is failing to live up to this mission by inadvertently discriminating against Alaska Natives’ age-old traditions and denying a market and financial development to remote Alaskans practicing their legal and cultural heritage.”
HUMAN REMAINS? REALLY, ETSY?
“Your prohibition without recognizing the legal production and sale of these items by Alaskan Natives is disheartening and shortsighted,” Sen. Sullivan wrote. “Worse yet, Etsy explicitly allows the sale of items made from human teeth and hair. To recognize a market for these “human remains” on your site while failing to account for unique and century’s old cultural practices of Alaska Natives seems to be an odd way to ‘Keep Commerce Human.’”
“While we can all agree that measures must be taken to combat elephant poaching and protect various species of marine mammals, harming Alaska’s rich cultural traditions and rural economies will do little to achieve additional conservation benefits…,” he wrote, “I urge you to consider the impacts that your policies—including your decision to terminate my constituents’ accounts—are having on Alaskans, in particular Alaska Natives. Finally, I ask that you reconsider your policies to recognize sales of Alaska Natives’ legal and tradition cultural and art.”
In 2016, Sullivan introduced S. 1965, the Allowing Alaska IVORY Act. This legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, would preempt states from banning walrus ivory or whale bone products that have been legally carved by Alaska Natives under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; in addition to preempting states from issuing bans on mammoth ivory products.
Alaskan Kristina Woolston, who is Athabaskan, applauded Sullivan on Facebook and said she would delete her Etsy account and boycott the company “until they can recognize the legal and historically approved practice of Alaska Native artisans traditional use of an entire animal, which includes creating beautiful art and clothing.”