Etsy Prevents Alaska Native Artisans From Selling Ivory Art

By Sameer Rao Feb 07, 2018

Etsy confirmed to The Associated Press today (February 7) that it will ban the sale of ivory and other controlled animal products. The company is facing backlash for applying the policy to Alaska Native artists who are permitted by law to use ivory in their crafts.

"We have updated our policies to reflect the increasingly global nature of our business and our community,” Etsy officials told The AP. “With increased global regulation surrounding ivory and animal products, we can no longer accommodate such products produced by Native Alaskans in our marketplace.”

Much of this regulation focuses on ivory from the tusks of elephants. But per the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, indigenous people of Alaska can legally use ivory from walrus tusks and whale teeth and bones. The regulations also permit the use of other animal products like seal skin, so long as they are sustainably harvested in designated areas. The use of such products by Alaska Natives predates the growth of animal poaching industries that led to the endangerment of these protected animals in the first place. 

Marcu Gho, an Inupiat man who lives in the Alaskan capital of Juneau, told The AP that Etsy delisted several items from his sales page yesterday (February 6). The removal came after weeks of conversations with Etsy representatives, who said his artwork appeared to use fur from Alaska’s northern sea otters. Some of these species are protected, but many can be harvested by Alaska Native peoples, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Etsy rebuffed Gho when he explained the distinction. 

"In the past, we have allowed an exemption for Alaska Natives,” Etsy wrote in an email to Gho that The AP cited. “However, we’ve determined that we are unable to make exceptions for these items in our marketplace going forward. Removing this exemption helps us create a single global policy prohibiting endangered or threatened animals.”

Gho told The AP that he feels the policy furthers stereotypes of Alaska Natives as barbaric. “When they’re telling me that they don’t feel it’s acceptable that I sell these things, I take it a little bit more personally,” he said. 

The AP notes that Alaska Native community officials and artists compelled Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) to write Etsy CEO Josh Silverman on Friday (February 2). Sullivan posted the letter on Twitter yesterday (February 6): 

rnt"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. “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 [your mission to 'Keep Commerce Human'] 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.”