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Rural Alaska

Alaska cultural group ‘condemns’ Facebook ban on animal-part sales

Update: 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3

A Facebook spokeswoman on Saturday, after the original story ran, emailed a response, with an apology: “Several Marketplace posts from this page were mistakenly rejected and are now running on Facebook. We review millions of listings and sometimes we make mistakes - we apologize for the error.” The company does not allow sales of raw or unprocessed fur or pelts, but does allow processed fur and leather.

Original story:

Sen. Dan Sullivan and a cultural preservation group from Alaska are urging Facebook to exempt Alaska Natives from its ban against legal sales of items made with animal body parts.

Sealaska Heritage Institute said it was “condemning” the social media giant’s policy, according to a statement from the organization on Friday. The policy will have a “devastating” effect on Alaska Natives artists who make a living in remote villages by selling handicrafts made of legally harvested animals, Rosita Worl, the institute’s president.

The institute was contacted by Sitka skin sewer Robert Miller after he tried selling a hat made from sea-otter fur on Facebook. Facebook wrote him back saying it was not allowed.

Miller, an Alaska Native, said on Friday the policy will be especially hard on artists living in villages with limited economic opportunities and sky-high prices for food and fuel.

Miller said the fur was harvested legally under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“It upsets me that this long tradition of culture, in many different cultures, is being denied because someone somewhere decided it wasn’t right,” he said.

Miller said Facebook lets him sell the fur items on the page for his business, Sea Fur Sewing. He pays Facebook money to boost those businesses posts. But those same crafts have been banned when he tries to sell them as an individual on Facebook Marketplace, without paying the company money.

It seems Facebook makes an exception when it benefits financially, he said.

A Facebook spokesman said by email on Friday the company is looking into the issue.

A spokesman in Sullivan’s office on Friday said the senator will send a letter next week to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seeking an exemption for Alaska Natives.

“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,” Sullivan said in the statement from the institute.

Zuckerberg visited Alaska in 2017, and expressed admiration for subsistence fishing. Subsistence hunting, fishing and whaling also underpin the Native culture.

A similar fight played out last year between Alaskans and Etsy, after the e-commerce site said it would no longer allow Alaska Natives to sell crafts made with ivory or parts from threatened or endangered animals.

Alaska Native tribal members can generally hunt animals for subsistence that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. They can also legally turn body parts from the animals into art for sale.

Etsy reinstated posts from Southeast Alaska artists that it had banned. The northern sea otter from that region is not listed as threatened like its Southwest Alaska cousin, a distinction Etsy had initially refused to accept.

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