U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today introduced legislation exempting some traditional and customary Alaska Native handicrafts from a provision in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibiting the sale of items containing feathers and other non-edible migratory bird parts.
The bill comes in response to recent enforcement actions taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) against Alaska Native carvers and artists who used feathers in their artwork. Because of this enforcement approach, many Alaska Natives are refraining from engaging in traditional activities.
"Alaska Natives have been using feathers in their ceremonial clothing and artwork for thousands of years," Murkowski said. "Culture and tradition are incredibly important to Alaska Natives, and when a well-known Tlingit artist, Archie Cavanaugh, was cited last October for attempting to sell a headdress containing migratory bird parts, it really called attention to the inconsistencies in the law and the need for a legislative fix."
The Alaska Federation of Natives and other Native groups have expressed concerns over what they consider to be the heavy-handed enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the lack of clarity under the law.
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, many of the masks, headdresses, hats, and clothing used in traditional gatherings could be considered illegal if offered for sale. Alternatively, the Marine Mammal Protection Act provides an exemption for Alaska Natives to continue their traditional and customary practices, including creating and selling art pieces.
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has introduced companion legislation (HR 3109) in the House.