Sealaska Heritage Institute is working with Alaska Congressional delegation to advocate for remedy
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is condemning a Facebook ban on legal sales of products made from any “part, pelt or skin from an animal, including fur,” according to the site’s commerce policy.
The ban will have a devastating effect on Native artists throughout the state, who sell through Facebook and are dependent on the proceeds from arts and handicraft made from animal parts for their basic livelihood, said SHI President Rosita Worl.
“It runs counter to SHI’s efforts to establish sustainable arts-and-craft economies in rural communities where opportunities to earn a cash income are limited or non-existent,” said Worl, who noted support for a sustainable sea otter harvest and sale of handicrafts is also a priority of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce.
SHI became aware of the ban after Sitka skin sewer Robert Miller posted a sea otter hat for sale on Facebook and received a message yesterday saying it was not approved because it didn’t meet Facebook’s commerce policies. The artist then contacted Sealaska Heritage.
“This fur was harvested legally under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and this art practice has been part of our indigenous culture for more than 10,000 years,” Miller said. “I don’t understand why Facebook has put this ban in place.”
Worl has reached out to Alaska’s Congressional delegation to help advocate for a remedy to the issue.
“The sale of Native arts and handicraft arises from ancient traditions and has been a cornerstone of Native culture and societies for thousands of years,” said U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan. “Facebook has connected the world, and in particular remote Alaska communities and Alaska Native cultures. Unfortunately, Facebook’s ban, without recognizing or accommodating the legal right of Alaska Natives to produce and sell handicrafts, threatens to reduce the site’s positive impacts for the Alaska Native community. I would urge Mr. Zuckerberg to draw on his experiences traveling in our great State and his respect for our Native organizations, and amend Facebook’s policy to account for Alaska Natives’ traditions and legal rights.”
SHI also contacted Zuckerberg through his Facebook account, asking him to at least consider allowing an exemption for Alaska Native and Indigenous peoples.
The sale of fur and other animal byproducts by Alaska Natives is a statewide practice. In Southeast Alaska, approximately one-quarter (23%) of all artists identify themselves as Alaska Native artists, according to The Arts Economy of Southeast Alaska, a study released by the Southeast Conference in 2014. In ten Southeast Alaska communities, Alaska Native art is the dominant art form, with 75% to 100% of survey respondents identifying themselves as Alaska Native artists.
The 10 communities with higher proportions of Alaska Native artists also have fewer employment opportunities, the study found. A lack of conventional jobs—especially in the winter—underlies the higher value of art income to the overall economy in these areas.
The study also found that independent Southeast Alaska Native artists rely more heavily on art to augment their annual incomes than other regional artists. Moreover, those who make Alaska Native art were twice as likely as non-Alaska Native artists to report that art provides all of their personal income.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.