Etsy.com
NaturesArtMelbourne items currently for sale include this hawk prayer fan for $21.67. The feathers of eagles, hawks, falcons and other birds are being sold or exported from the Australian shop in a practice that Paul Benton and the Native American Forum Thread Group question as possibly illegal or culturally inappropriate. The shop sells through Etsy Inc., a major e-commerce website, which has threatened Benton with suspension of his own account if he does not stop making unwanted contact with the shop’s owner.

Etsy Feather Controversy Goes International

Carol Berry
6/4/13

A teepee-maker and self-styled defender of Native rights was startled at the apathy he encountered when he sought support from the online Indian community in his conflict with a global marketer and a shopkeeper in Australia over questionable sales of feathers of protected birds.

“We expected people to be up in arms, but they aren’t,” said Paul Benton, owner of Ahki Tipi Native American Teepees, in Oakland, California. After battling unsuccessfully with NaturesArtMelbourne, an Australian store selling the feathers, and Etsy Inc., the e-commerce website through which the store sold them, he turned to an online petition, expecting a loud outcry of protest.

Only 220 people responded, despite the petition’s assertion that the U.S. is “the second-largest destination market for illegally trafficked wildlife in the world.” It provides links to previous sales by the Australian store, which, it states, “has sold hundreds of eagle, hawk, falcon and owl feathers.”

Similar protests to other feather-sellers have been met with more success, he said. “Most everyone we contacted have greatly appreciated this,” he explained. “Most of them are very unaware they’re doing something illegal and they stop.”

NaturesArtMelbourne sells jewelry made of stone and wood, feather jewelry, feather hair extensions and smudging feathers, which include the feathers in question, according to its website. The shop also sells “guardian angels,” humanoid figures some of which incorporate feathers, and “love heart creations” that include heart-shaped pendants and other jewelry items made of natural materials.

The legality or illegality of the sales is in question, an issue being tackled by Australian Wildlife Trade Regulation officials, who declined further comment.

“I’m Native American and I feel it’s more of a cultural (than legal) thing,” Benton said. He began investigating the feather issue about a year ago, when he initiated the online Native American Thread Group, an invitation-only organization of about 50 artisans and craftspeople across the U.S. who bead, do leatherwork, and produce powwow regalia and other Native-themed work.

The group investigated the Melbourne shop for its use of feathers from eagles and other raptors, which Benton acknowledged may be indigenous to Australia. The shop states on a “smudging fan” hawk feather page, “Please note in some countries it is not allowed to own/sell certain feathers. I do not ship any feathers from birds protected by the Migratory Bird Act to the United States.”

Benton said the disclaimer is new and is a reaction to their repeated contacts with the store—contacts that temporarily cost him his own Etsy account, which was closed and then reopened. The website warned Benton that further unwanted contact with sellers could result in a permanent account termination, according to a message from Etsy.

Benton countered that Etsy—which declined further comment—violated its own policy of not listing live animals or illegal animal products, which the company says “just aren’t in the spirit of Etsy.” Etsy also pointed out it has diverse sellers and told Benton “you may find some content to be disturbing or not in line with your personal beliefs.”

Australia is signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement between governments, which could affect both the export and import of feathers, said Steve Oberholzer, Special Agent in Charge, Law Enforcement, USFWS Region 6 – Mountain-Prairie Region, who was asked to comment on wildlife protection laws.

Depending on the circumstances, there could also be violation of the Lacey Act that prohibits importing, exporting, buying and selling of wildlife or parts—including many types of falcons, eagles, hawks and owls—covered under CITES. Further, more than 1,000 species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, he said.

Benton, 54, who is also an awning-maker, began making and selling tipis 16 years ago. He’s proud of his descent from Pocomoke peoples, a non-recognized tribe from the eastern shore of Maryland.

He described familiarity with the ceremonial use of feathers in parts of the U.S., but said, “I don’t know if the feathers are sacred to Australia’s indigenous people. I wouldn’t know that.”

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Someone is making excuses & willfully remaining ignorant sounds like to me.

Farley Horsechief 's picture
Farley Horsechief
Submitted by Farley Horsechief on
Our association with people with no sense, in order to survive, has turned us on ourselves, in the animal world there are certain animals that will eat their own.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
that's a typical story on etsy. one of their big brand themes is tribe. they appropriate all types of american indigenous "looks" for their fashion pages and e-mail blasts. it's, with maybe a few exceptions, all white women gone native. considering the cultural disrespect and the genocide native americans have suffered, it's simply sad.

Lucie's picture
Lucie
Submitted by Lucie on
Disgraceful - people getting away with murder, not to mention endangering our wildlife, for the sake of a few cheap trinkets. That's the last time I order anything from Etsy...

Silverhawk Irvine's picture
Silverhawk Irvine
Submitted by Silverhawk Irvine on
On top of the Migratory Bird Act.....there are also State Laws to be followed In Texas as an example you can not use BlueJay,Crow or Woodpecker....plus many others. You can use chicken & pigeon.... .

Paul Benton Sr.'s picture
Paul Benton Sr.
Submitted by Paul Benton Sr. on
My ETSY account was closed for good after being reported many many times for contacting sellers about selling Eagle feathers. This petition has not done any good, in fact it has caused my family a great loss. We sell our hand made lodges here and that is gone for ever. Once they found out about this petition they pretty much went hunting for anything and they kicked me off. The worst part besides the loss of my store is the pain in my heart after so many of my NA brothers and sisters did nothing to help. I wake up and the first thing I do is look at the petition for any changes. I don't want to believe what I see but I have no choice but accept the truth. My people must not care and this makes me hurt more then the loss of money from losing my ETSY account. I can only ask why and keep hoping my people will make me proud.

Paul Benton Sr.'s picture
Paul Benton Sr.
Submitted by Paul Benton Sr. on
Still no help from the NA world .. It sickens me to be NA these days .. 2 millions NAs out there and only a handful takes time to do something good.. JACK ASSES !!

Paul Benton Sr.'s picture
Paul Benton Sr.
Submitted by Paul Benton Sr. on
We may not have had allot of support with the petition but we had people on the inside of ETSY working to right this. Not only did ESTY change the policy of selling protected animal parts. THEY SOLD THE COMPANY and fired all the people who we're fight us. I just happened to be a young NA woman working for ETSY and because she noticed the petition CHANGE WAS MADE!

Paul Benton Sr.'s picture
Paul Benton Sr.
Submitted by Paul Benton Sr. on
We may not have had allot of support with the petition but we had people on the inside of ETSY working to right this. Not only did ESTY change the policy of selling protected animal parts. THEY SOLD THE COMPANY and fired all the people who we're fighting us. Just happened to be a young NA woman working for ETSY and because she noticed the petition CHANGE WAS MADE!
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