Senator Sullivan Writes Etsy, Inc CEO Encouraging Change in Policies Negatively Impacting Alaska Native Artisans

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan recently wrote the CEO of Etsy, Inc – an online marketplace of crafts and handmade items – following reports that Alaska Native constituents selling products or artwork with sealskin, sea otter and ivory have had their e-commerce accounts unfairly terminated or items delisted.

“I write to make you aware that Etsy has been unfairly terminating some of my Alaska Native (i.e., indigenous Alaskans) constituents’ accounts. Your company’s actions – due to your well-meaning, but frankly misguided policies and terms of service – are having unintended consequences that are harming Alaska Natives and their communities in my state,” Sullivan wrote in the letter sent February 2, 2018.

Senator Sullivan – who has led efforts to protect the rights of Alaska Native artisans and continues to educate others on the negative impacts facing Alaska Native and rural economies as a result of overly-broad bans on ivory – wrote Etsy CEO Josh Silverman to raise awareness and to outline a number of unintended consequences associated with the company’s policies.

“These are Alaska Natives who are legally selling sustainably harvested sealskin, sea otter, and ivory based art and clothing products. I understand your company has taken the position through your policy that these are “prohibited items.”  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,” wrote Senator Sullivan. “This policy also discriminates against my constituents, denies them a prime forum to sell their sustainably produced goods, and falls short of your company’s stated mission. You claim “Etsy is the global marketplace for unique and creative goods … [and your] mission is to Keep Commerce Human.”  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 this mission 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.”

“Your prohibition without recognizing the legal production and sale of these items by Alaskan Natives is disheartening and shortsighted,” Sullivan wrote. “Worse yet, Etsy explicitly allows the sale of items made from human teeth and hair.  To recognize a market for these “human remains” on your site while failing to account for unique and century’s old cultural practices of Alaska Natives seems to be an odd way to ‘Keep Commerce Human.’”

Senator Sullivan closed his letter with a simple, but important request of Etsy: “reconsider your policies to recognize sales of Alaska Natives’ legal and tradition cultural and art.”

“While we can all agree that measures must be taken to combat elephant poaching and protect various species of marine mammals, harming Alaska’s rich cultural traditions and rural economies will do little to achieve additional conservation benefits…,” the letter said. “I urge you to consider the impacts that your policies—including your decision to terminate my constituents’ accounts—are having on Alaskans, in particular Alaska Natives. Finally, I ask that you reconsider your policies to recognize sales of Alaska Natives’ legal and tradition cultural and art.”


In October 2016, Senator Sullivan convened a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee field hearing at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention to discuss a series of reported problems and confusion surrounding state laws across the country that prohibit ivory sales and harm Alaska Native artisans. Following the hearing – working with Alaska Native leaders and those negatively impacted by these bans – Senator Sullivan introduced S. 1965, the Allowing Alaska IVORY Act. This legislation, cosponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski, would preempt states from banning walrus ivory or whale bone products that have been legally carved by Alaska Natives under the Marine Mammal Protection Act; in addition to preempting states from issuing bans on mammoth ivory products.

View the full text of the letter here