By DAN FOX
A joint resolution by the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate advocating for the exemption of legally-acquired ivory from laws in the lower 48 that ban the sale, use and possession of ivory has been approved and is heading to the governor’s desk.
This development is “the biggest step forward that we’ve had,” according to Skagway ivory carver Bruce Schindler. He added that it sets a precedent for other states to follow.
“It means that our state is standing up for our carvers, our state is making a statement that we support our heritage of ethical ivory use,” Schindler said. “And they’re making it public.”
The resolution points to the rights of Alaska Natives to harvest and use walrus byproducts; the longstanding use of legally-acquired walrus, mammoth and mastodon ivory by Alaska Natives to make tools, artwork and jewelry and the use of the material by non-Native people to make goods. It also states that the laws banning the sale of ivory in certain states don’t discriminate between legally-acquired ivory and African elephant ivory.
California is one of the states that has adopted an ivory ban; Hawaii, is another. Hawaii’s law calls out walruses as well as mammoths, stating that “no person shall sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, possess with intent to sell or barter for any part or product from mammoth (Mammuthus), although the species is extinct.”
Ivory bans, like those in California and Hawaii, can impact business deals and can curb enthusiasm of those in engaged in art using fossil ivory, according to Schindler. He also said the bans currently on the books in some states could also have a chilling effect if other states were to discuss implementing a total ivory ban. Having the Alaska Legislature’s resolution out there might serve as a counterbalance to that.
“Just as California’s total ban created a chilling effect, Alaska’s saying ‘hey, wait a minute, our ivories are actually really, really cool, and not only does it not endanger elephants, its actually preserving mammoths, it’s bringing mammoths back to life, and it’s keeping the native villages intact,’” Schindler said.
The issue of cracking down on fossil ivory and righteously-obtained ivory products extends beyond the “western” use of ivory, which is what Schindler said happens in Skagway.
“For us it means shifting to a different livelihood, which is a bummer, but that’s the reality,” Schindler said. “For the Natives up in the villages, it means a loss of their culture.”
Alaska is the dominant market for fossilized ivory, Schindler said, though markets – such as knife-making and using fossilized ivories for gun handles – do exist for the materials in the lower 48 states.
“We’re so lucky in our environment,” Schindler said. “It hasn’t affected local artists too dramatically yet. Where it’s affecting is, suppliers are producing less because we are afraid to invest that much into something that may not be around tomorrow.”
Tina Cyr, who said one-third of her Skagway art shop’s inventory is made from or incorporates legally-acquired ivory, said carvers and art retailers need the support of the state.
“We don’t just need the state to pass it [the resolution] and the governor to sign it, we need the state to be more proactive and to help us educate,” Cyr said. “And to help preserve the people that are working, native and non-native.”