A policy intended to deter the illegal trade of ivory and items made with the parts of endangered or threatened animals has led online sales website Etsy to remove artefacts sold by Alaska Native artists, who can legally use ivory in their pieces.
US Senator Dan Sullivan has asked the chief executive officer of Etsy.com to reconsider its policy to allow Alaska Natives to keep selling products made from materials such as walrus tusks or petrified woolly mammoth remains.
Sullivan said he assumed that the basis of the policy was to combat elephant poaching in Africa and India - efforts he supported - but that it should not be extended to a blanket ban.
"Your policy fails to recognise that Alaska Natives are explicitly authorised under federal laws, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to work with and sell walrus ivory, whale tooth and bone, and other non-elephant ivory," the Alaska Republican wrote to the New York-based company.
Etsy has not responded to the letter, according to Sullivan spokesman Matt Shuckerow. In an email to Associated Press, Etsy said it could no longer allow Alaska Natives to sell animal products such as ivory but that their accounts remained active.
"We have updated our policies to reflect the increasingly global nature of our business and our community," the company said. "With increased global regulation surrounding ivory and animal products, we can no longer accommodate such products produced by Native Alaskans in our marketplace."
Sullivan heard about the issue from Alaska Native leaders and a handful of artists whose accounts were disrupted, Shuckerow said. In his letter, Sullivan noted that Alaska Natives have used animal products for subsistence, survival and cultural expression for thousands of years.
Marcu Gho, an Inupiat Eskimo who lives in Juneau, is among the affected artists. He had sold gloves, key chains, scarves and other artwork made from sea otter fur for about five years until the items were delisted on Tuesday (6 February).
He said the delisting occurred after he spoke to Etsy officials last week in response to social media posts from other artists about the policy change.
Gho said he had been warned that it appeared his artwork was derived from Alaska's northern sea otters. A portion of the otter population is listed as threatened but does not include south-east Alaska otters, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
"In the past, we have allowed an exemption for Alaska Natives," an Etsy official wrote to Gho. "However, we've determined that we are unable to make exceptions for these items in our marketplace. Removing this exemption helps us create a single global policy prohibiting endangered or threatened animals."
Gho said he explained the difference in species to the official but did not get anywhere. He said he was frustrated that he could not share this part of his culture.
He added that the policy perpetuates a perception that Alaska Natives are barbarians.
"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.