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News brief with The Colorado Sun: Minturn-based Astis Mittens accused of cultural appropriation

Two uniquely-decorated mittens side-by-side, one with a red, yellow and black coat of arms and white fur and another with a yellow image of a lion, orange fur and beige leather string tassels.
Hugh Carey
The Colorado Sun
A pair of Astis mittens found at the Mangiare Italian Food Market in Minturn, Colorado on June 6, 2023. The mittens are made with natural materials, such as cowhide and fur, decorated with various works of art.

Each week, we talk with our colleagues at The Colorado Sun about the stories they're following. This time, we spoke with Editor Lance Benzel.

The Colorado Sun staff are reporting on a controversy facing a Colorado company that makes high-end leather mittens.

Astis, based in Minturn, Colorado, came under scrutiny in 2019 when a professional skier with Indigenous heritage saw the fur-lined mittens at an Outdoor Retailershow in Denver. The skier, Connor Ryan, is Hunkpapa Lakota, according to Benzel.

"[He] was struck by the mittens' elaborate, colorful beadwork, which to him looked unmistakably like Native designs," Benzel said. "Ryan said he asked the company for information on where they had come up with the designs, and the company reps turned defensive and asked him to leave their their booth. That was really the start of a controversy that has blown up."

In the four years since, Ryan has joined with a group of Native American artists in criticizing Astis for appropriating Indigenous designs without permission or credit, as well as for not employing Native artists. The negative feedback recently resulted in the retailer Teton Gravity Research pulling Astis products from its stores.

Astis has said it is eager to give credit where credit is due, Benzel said. The company has pledged to start by hiring Native artisans and said efforts are underway to give back to Indigenous communities.

Astis donates a portion of its revenue to the American Indian College Fund. The company also pays for full-time scholarships for Native American students at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

As a reporter and host for KUNC, I follow the local stories of the day while also guiding KUNC listeners through NPR's wider-scope coverage. It's an honor and a privilege to help our audience start their day informed and entertained.
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