On Monday, June 10, an Alaska Native entourage from Kawerak and the Bering Strait region hosted an educational forum about walrus ivory in Washington, D.C. Their audience was a room full of legislative staff in the U.S. Senate building who were mostly from the Lower 48 and had never stepped foot in Alaska.
Kawerak’s President and CEO, Melanie Bahnke, led the forum, emphasizing how individual state bans on all ivory are negatively impacting Western Alaskans. Bahnke explained to the audience of mostly Lower-48ers that Alaska Natives rely on walrus for more than just ivory.
“We were the original, and we still are, the original conservationists… and we don’t want any threats to the walrus population.”
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan also spoke in strong support of the culture surrounding walrus ivory. He asserted that there should be no state bans against walrus ivory in this country.
To hear more of the Senator and Bahnke’s comments from the ivory forum, as well as other guest speakers like Vera Metcalf and Perry Pungowiyi, listen to this episode of KNOM Profiles via the audio player above. (The full video recording of the forum is available on YouTube and is embedded, below.)
Image at top: file photo (2017): Various carvings made from ivory on display at Maruskiya’s gift shop in Nome. Most of these pieces are made from walrus ivory. Photo: Davis Hovey, KNOM.