Alaska Delegation Moves to Protect Native Craftsmen

U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Congressman Don Young (R-AK) this week introduced the Empowering Rural Economies Through Alaska Native Sustainable Arts and Handicrafts Act, in the House and the Senate. The legislation would preempt states from banning walrus ivory, whale bone, and other marine mammal products that have been legally carved by Alaska Natives under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Additionally, the bill preempts states from issuing bans on fossilized ivory products, including from walrus and extinct mammoths.

“For years, a key source of income in the rural and Alaska Native subsistence economy has been the sale of artistic treasures that celebrate the cultural heritage of Alaska’s First People,” said Senator Sullivan. “Sadly, the livelihood and culture of these craftsmen and their families has come under attack with numerous states banning the sale of sustainable arts made of walrus and mammoth ivory and other marine mammal products legally allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, unnecessarily coupling them with the illicit sale of poached elephant ivory. Our legislation will put an end to the confusion these state laws are creating and protect the well-being, culture, and economic opportunities of Alaska Native craftsmen and mammoth ivory artisans.”

“The illicit elephant ivory trade is something we all want to fight and I commend the many states that have made legislative efforts to do so,” said Senator Murkowski. “Sadly, many of these state ivory bans were put into place without consulting indigenous people who continue their cultural tradition of carvings made from locally found fossilized mammoth ivory or from marine mammals. Banning Americans from purchasing or possessing this type of cultural art destroys a legal source of income for Alaska Natives. I’m proud to reintroduce legislation with Senator Sullivan that will protect this important economic opportunity, Alaska Native culture, and part of Alaska’s history.”

“Fine arts and crafts are an important part of Alaska Native culture, and represent economic empowerment for countless tribes,” said Congressman Don Young. “In their efforts to ban elephant ivory, many states have inadvertently banned walrus ivory and other marine mammal products used in Alaska Native handicrafts. These bans have jeopardized the livelihoods of Native entrepreneurs who have produced the same arts and crafts for generations. I am proud to work together with Senators Murkowski and Sullivan to protect Native artisans and simplify a confusing patchwork of laws and regulations that unfairly impact Alaska Native communities.”

Under current law and the proposed legislation, the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to apply restrictions on the taking of particular species in the event the population of a marine mammal is deemed to be depleted. However, the secretary is required to demonstrate such regulations are supported by substantial evidence, and targeted to specific species, geographical regions, and seasons.