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Letty Eileen Cole, 93, died on Oct. 15, 2014, in Ketchikan.
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7/25/2014
Value culture
Allowances should be made for traditional Alaska Native artwork containing bird parts.

Say what? For those unfamiliar with Alaska Native traditions, one tradition is to create art containing non-edible migratory bird parts.

It's been done for as long as the Natives have been in Alaska — a very long time.

Congressman Don Young has introduced legislation to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The amendment would make allowances for Native art featuring feathers, bones and other bird parts.

The need for amending the act came to Young's attention a couple of years ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cited a well-known Tlingit artist for including feathers in a piece of commercial art. The artist might have served time, but he settled with the federal government for a fine of a couple of thousand dollars instead.

In response, the Alaska Federation of Natives asked for a legislative allowance. The legislation will be discussed next in the House's Natural Resources Committee.

But, it should be pointed out to that committee and the whole House, which Young likely will do, the absurdity of fining or jailing an Alaska artist for using feathers and the like.

It isn't unusual to come across a feather left by a bird and laying on the ground in Alaska. Alaskans, whether Native or not, shouldn't be in danger of citation or jail time because they picked it up, and, in the case of Natives, added it to a traditional art piece.

Nor should the Natives be prevented from acquiring feathers, bones and other dead-bird parts for art.

The Natives employ their artistic talents mostly in villages around the state in order to make a living. For those in the villages, their livelihood shouldn't be compromised by a federal law.

As much as this nation is comprised of different cultures coming together to live as one, it is a place where separate heritages and cultures are valued. The Native culture is valuable to not only Alaska, but the United States.

Young's amendment amounts to common sense for American Natives who have accommodated other cultures in recent times.