I have gotten many questions about this....so I thought I would clear it up a bit
I live in a very small village in Northern Alaska. I also grew up in even a smaller village. The thing is, we have no roads. So all of the food for the stores come through airplane. As a consequence, food is very very expensive, because we are also paying for it to be shipped by air.
Jobs are scarce here. And more than 75% of them are taken by people who are not from here and/or don't even live here. So money is rare.
We are also part of a movement to keep our culture alive. In this day and and age filled with computers, airplanes, drugs, and other impending situations including the decimation of our numbers....it is a struggle to hold onto what little there is left. And even harder because the younger generations do not hold it dear.
All of my natural materials come from the animals we harvest for food, or from animals that were trying to eat us while we are gathering food. Not only do we store food for the winter months, but we also feed 15+ families. I am lucky enough to be paired with a man who is a very good hunter, and a generous one at that. He works very hard to keep us fed. It is a year long mission, and is very dangerous. We do not do massive collecting of animals, nor do we use inhumane methods.
As a consequence of living a subsistance lifestyle, my people are very dedicated to protecting our resources. We fight hard to keep our land and animals free of contaminants and the encroaching civilization. We take care of our source of food, and it shows by the healthy stable numbers reported by our government. It is only when you take the animal away from us leaglly, that it suffers.
So after hunting, and all the meat is stored, and it has been portioned out to those who need it, there is often parts of the animals left over. The fur, claws, whiskers, bones, baleen and other such things are often left and forgotten. As a trained artist, it is a very wonderful resources, very unique and rare. So I take it upon my self to learn how to create beautiful things....from the "leftovers".
I am registered with the state program called "silver hand." It basically means that they have checked my bloodline and confirm that I am Alaskan Native, that I am Inupiaq Eskimo of the Tikigaqmiut. And because of this I can sell my work legally.
FOSSIL IVORY is at least a few hundred years old, and is found regularly washed up on the beaches here, or found on the tundra when weather exposes it. The darker it is, the more bluish-black it gets, the older it is. Sometimes I will also use mammoth or mastadon ivory in my work if it is available.
POLAR BEAR CLAWS are gotten from polar bears that are killed by Inupiaq Eskimo Hunters. Unlike "head hunters", we use all of the animal. The animal's meat is usually divided up in the community, it tastes like a very rich and fishy red meat. The hide, teeth, claws, and skull are used in artwork. Polar bears are never killed for pleasure or just for trophy. All polar bears taken are tracked by the State gov. Measurements and samples are kept on record. Lately there have been a increase in crazy and/or sick bears and we feel it is due to the warming, which decreases thier food source, and makes them take risks they would not normally take. They are a very scary bear as they are not intimidated by humans at all. Some of the meat is actually poisonous, and so great care and knowledge is needed in preparing Polar bear meat.
WALRUS IVORY is taken from the walrus. The whole walrus is used and/or eaten. They provide a very sustantial amount of meat, and their hide is used to make things like the large blankets for the blanket toss during some celebrations. I also sometimes use thier whiskers in my work if I can get them. Walrus Ivory CANNOT be worked/sold/bought raw by a non-Alaskan Native. We are they only ones in the U.S. allowed to use and gather it. You CANNOT buy a piece unless it is worked into something by a registered Alaska Native.
SEAL GUT is the actual dried seal intestine of the bearded seal. This is the most revered and hard to catch seal. Thier meat and blubber and skin is very much loved and used in things like the skin for the boats that are used in whaling.
BALEEN are the flat long slim plates found inside the bowhead whales mouth. They have long rough hairs on the inside. The Whale uses them to seive out the krill in thier mouth. Inupiaq Eskimo's of the North Slope of Alaska are one of the few peoples still alowed to hunt the whales, and are governed by international laws. We are only allowed a certain amount, and this amount is judged by how many people need to be fed. The bowhead whale is a central figure in our culture. We still use skin boats and traditional methods to hunt the whale.
SEAL SKIN is leftovers from seals that are caught for food. We do NOT do mass killings like I have heard about on the opposite coast. These seals are taken by skilled hunters and involve many hours and much danger since they are taken on the ice, one by one if the conditions are right. They are never hunted for thier fur, they are hunted for food and for the blubber they can provide.
WOLF PRODUCTS, Wolverine products like fur and claws are scraps and leftovers from what we harvest to use for our winter gear. It gets down to -70 degrees (I think the coldest ever was actually -100 degrees) in the winter time. And since winter lasts for half the year here we do have to venture out in the deep cold. There is absolutely no material that can act as a substitute for wolf fur trim/wolverine fur that keeps our exposed skin from freezing instantly. We harvest wolves and wolverines from a population that is not ever in danger of being endangered. My husband is one of a very few people that harvests wolves, and we supply many families with enough fur to survive the winter.
If I am missing anything please feel free to ask me, I love sharing my culture and ansering questions!