Inupiaq woman criticizes use of her image in Dunleavy ad, campaign deletes footage

Then-Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting in April 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

A Fairbanks woman objected to video of her being included in a campaign advertisement without her consent. Republican candidate for governor Mike Dunleavy’s campaign removed the footage soon after it became aware of her concern.

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The woman said the ad took advantage of her Inupiaq ethnicity.

Marjorie Tahbone said she became aware of the ad on social media when friends forwarded it to her.

In the original version of the ad, there are several seconds of her walking in the woods, and of her dancing as part of a group.

“It’s just my face and it’s obviously my face,” Tahbone said. “And I’m obviously a brown person and I’m obviously Native in there. And so, the issue of them using me as an image to portray the support of the Native community, I wasn’t comfortable with.”

Tahbone criticized the ad in a Facebook post, saying that she doesn’t support Dunleavy. The campaign took down the ad on Sunday, shortly after it became aware of the post. The ad’s been reposted, without the footage of Tahbone.

Tahbone works to provide Inuit tattoos to women. She lives in Fairbanks and is originally from Nome. She said Dunleavy’s campaign may have had the right to use the footage, but should have asked her before doing it.

“They made a huge mistake, by just using me, using my face without my permission,” Tahbone said.

Dunleavy campaign manager Brett Huber said the use of footage from an AJ+ news video was typical for campaign ads. AJ+ is part of the Al Jazeera Media Network.

“We saw the comments posted on Facebook, so we took swift action to remove the image,” Dunleavy said. “I sent a message to Marjorie explaining to her that while the footage was obtained and used legally, we didn’t want anybody included in an ad that they didn’t support.”

Huber said Dunleavy wouldn’t seek to use an image of an Alaska Native woman to convey support from Natives. He noted that Dunleavy’s wife Rose is an Alaska Native.

“One of the things that I like the most about our candidate is he’s colorblind and he’s gender-blind,” Huber said. “Mike’s been married to an Alaska Native woman for 31 years. He would never advantage specifically an Alaska Native, a Caucasian or any other race. People are people, so certainly that was never our intent, nor would it be something that Mike would pursue.”

AJ+ senior producer Maggie Beidelman said the company wouldn’t have granted permission to use the news video if Dunleavy’s campaign had asked. Video makers might use brief clips for illustration and other purposes, arguing they can under the copyright doctrine of fair use.

Dunleavy resigned from his Wasilla-area state Senate seat in January to focus on his campaign. He previously served as a teacher and school superintendent in Kotzebue.

Dunleavy faces six opponents in the Aug. 21 primary: former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell; Darin Colbry, a janitor and landscaping worker; Thomas Gordon, a heavy equipment mechanic; Gerald Heikes, who has owned a drywall company; Merica Hlatcu, an engineer; and Michael Sheldon, a handyman.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at

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