A good sign for Native artist after Etsy relists his sea otter crafts

Marcus Gho hunts for sea otters on June 8, 2013, near Pleasant Island in Icy Strait. Gho, who is Inupiaq Eskimo, lives in Juneau and creates items using sea otter fur. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

Marcus Gho hunts for sea otters on June 8, 2013, near Pleasant Island in Icy Strait. Gho, who is Inupiaq Eskimo, lives in Juneau and creates items using sea otter fur. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

An international e-commerce retailer has relisted items that a Juneau resident crafted from sea otter fur.

It happened on Saturday, after the Alaska Native artist petitioned Etsy to relist the items, and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan exchanged some letters with the company.

Etsy says it’s moving away from local and national laws — such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act — and toward international standards.

Those standards don’t include an exemption for Alaska Native artists. So the company says it removed ivory items from its website. Items made from endangered species, such as some populations of sea otters, were also removed.

Marcus Gho is Inupiaq Eskimo. He hunts sea otters in Southeast Alaska and uses the pelts to create scarves, gloves, vests and other items. He heard of Etsy delisting other artists’ items and reached out to his Etsy customer service representative out of concern.

That’s when the representative noticed his sea otter items.

“After awhile she told me that because sea otters were endangered, my items would be delisted,” he said. “This confused me, because they’re not, we have so many sea otters here.”

Marcus Gho poses with his daughter at his craft table at the Native Artists Market in November 2016. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

Marcus Gho poses with his daughter at his craft table at the Native Artists Market in November 2016. (Photo courtesy Marcus Gho)

The two began exchanging links. Gho said the confusion on Etsy’s part comes from geography and the distinct populations across Alaska.

“I have sold some things on Etsy, it’s not the biggest source of the revenue that I have for my sea otter fur business,” Gho said. “Most of the stuff that I sell goes to other stores for resale.”

Gho said he uses Etsy to reach customers that he otherwise couldn’t. He petitioned Etsy saying that the population of Southeast sea otters aren’t endangered. And eventually his items were relisted.

That was good news for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s office.

“I think it’s important to recognize that there has been some movement or conversations between Etsy and Alaska Native artists,” said Sullivan spokesman Matt Shuckerow. “The senator and the office is hopeful that we can find a possible solution for those that may not have been able to relist their items, and we can find some resolution for those artisans.”

Earlier this month, the Alaska Republican had sent a letter to Etsy following reports of walrus ivory and sea otter items being delisted from the online retailer.

Ketchikan-based fur artist Christy Ruby uses harbor seals to create clothing and accessories. She uses Etsy as a way to network with others. Harbor seals are not listed as endangered or threatened, but items, containing material from those animals, had not been relisted.

And as far as Alaska Natives using walrus ivory?

An Etsy representative responded via email saying the company prohibits the sale of all ivory products, regardless of its age, origin or legality.

Editor’s note: This story now includes reference to a Ketchikan artist who also had items delisted from Etsy and an update about Etsy’s response to its ivory policy.

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