Saving the Archives: AG Ferguson leads a coalition of 40 tribes, states, and community organizations suing to keep the archives in Seattle

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

"Today I announced that our coalition of 40 tribes, states, and community organizations filed a lawsuit in federal court to save our National Archives and stop the federal government from scattering the DNA of our region more than 1,000 miles away." --AG Bob Ferguson

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that his office filed a lawsuit against the federal government for illegally proceeding with the sale of the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) building in Seattle. 

The government plans to ship the National Archives building’s irreplaceable, un-digitized records more than a thousand miles away to archive centers in Kansas City, Missouri and Riverside, California. 

This will effectively eliminate public access to the records. Twenty-nine federally recognized tribes, Alaskan tribal entities, and tribal communities from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, as well as nine community organizations, historical preservation societies and museums and the state of Oregon joined Ferguson’s lawsuit.

Tsimshean Child in Metlakahtla,
Alaska. Available at the National
Archives at Seattle 
The National Archives building in Seattle hosts exclusive and un-digitized tribal and treaty records, as well as Chinese Exclusion Act case files and records regarding the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. 

The records are invaluable resources for researchers, historians and individuals seeking information about their family history or heritage. 

For instance, tribal members use federal archive records to establish tribal membership, demonstrate and enforce tribal rights to fishing and other activities, trace their lineage and ancestry and access native school records. 

According NARA’s Seattle director, only “.001% of the facility’s 56,000 cubic feet of records are digitized and available online.”

“The Archives are critical partners in the conservation of our community’s history,” said Connie So, president of OCA Asian Pacific Advocates – Greater Seattle Chapter. 
“Most Chinese Americans left few records of their lives and history prior to 1950, making the Archive’s treasure trove of files related to the Chinese Exclusion Act all the more precious. 
"Once, when Seattle hosted the Association for Asian American Studies conference, we made a special trip to the Archives. People marveled at the fact that they could find information on relatives that they thought were long-lost. People shared poignant stories, especially when they discovered a photo of a family member.”
 
On Feb. 25, Ferguson sent a letter urging the federal government to reconsider the decision to move the records at the Archives. The letter details the regional historical significance of the records. At the same time, Ferguson sought public records related to the proposed sale. For nearly six months, the agencies refused to produce the public records. In fact, the PBRB demanded that taxpayers pay more than $65,000 for records redaction before producing them. In response to the agencies’ refusal to comply with Ferguson’s records request, Ferguson filed three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits in August 2020 and a fourth in September.

After litigation commenced, the PBRB dropped its demand for $65,000. However, it is now requesting until March 31 to produce its responsive documents — a date by which the Archives building may have already been sold. In response, Ferguson filed a motion asking the court handling his FOIA lawsuits to accelerate the case schedule. To date, the four federal agencies have produced minimal records, and many of those were highly redacted. For example, a document provided by OMB noted “red flag objections” to the sale of the Seattle Archives facility, but OMB redacted the attachment listing these objections.

In October 2020, the PBRB decided that it would sell the Archives building in Seattle early this year as part of a bundled sale along with 11 other federal properties around the country. It buried the details of this dramatic decision deep in a 74-page document on its website from that meeting. 

The federal government did not inform any interested stakeholders of this decision, including tribal governments or the Attorney General’s Office — despite Ferguson’s letter, public records requests and FOIA lawsuits. The Attorney General’s Office only discovered it when an assistant attorney general happened across PBRB’s website in late November 2020 while conducting separate research. PBRB had previously planned on selling the properties individually over the next year.

Legal claims

Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts the National Archives building was never legally eligible for the PBRB’s accelerated sale process. The law granting the PBRB authority to sell these federal properties specifically excludes buildings used for “research in connection with federal agricultural, recreational or conservation programs.” The National Archives building is exempt from expedited sale by law because it is used for research in connection with federal agricultural, recreational and conservation programs. In other words, the Archives building legally never should have been included in the portfolio of buildings the federal government has put out for bid.

The lawsuit also alleges significant administrative procedural violations. For example, the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) failed to develop the standards, criteria and recommendations required by Congress. Additionally, the federal government failed to consult or coordinate with the tribal governments in violation of federal-tribal consultation law and policy.

Legal coalition

Twenty-nine tribes, the State of Oregon, and 9 community organizations are partnering with Ferguson’s office in bringing the case. They include:

Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation
Confederated Tribes of the Coos
Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
Doyon, Ltd.
Duwamish Tribe
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon
Hoh Indian Tribe
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Kalispel Tribe of Indians
The Klamath Tribes
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Nez Perce Tribe
Nooksack Indian Tribe
Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
Puyallup Tribe of Indians
Quileute Tribe of the Quileute Reservation
Quinault Indian Nation
Samish Indian Nation
Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
Skokomish Indian Tribe
Snoqualmie Indian Tribe
Spokane Tribe of Indians
Squaxin Island Tribe
Suquamish Tribe
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
Tanana Chiefs Conference
Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
Upper Skagit Indian Tribe
Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation
American Historical Association
Association of King County Historical Organizations
Historic Seattle
Chinese American Citizens Alliance
HistoryLink
Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI)
OCA Asian Pacific Advocates – Greater Seattle Chapter
Washington Trust for Historic Preservation
Wing Luke Memorial Foundation
State of Oregon

Metlakahtla (Tsimshean) Children in
Metlakahtla, Alaska. Available at the
National Archives at Seattle
 
DNA of the region

The Seattle archives houses a significant collection of tribal and treaty records relating to the 272 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The archives contain original drafts of tribal treaties and original copies of correspondence from treaty negotiations during the mid-19th century.

Tribal members use federal archive records for many reasons, including to establish tribal membership, demonstrate and enforce tribal rights to fishing and other activities, trace their lineage and ancestry, and access native school records. If these historical records are removed from the Pacific Northwest, many tribal members will be prevented from exercising these important rights.

The federal government did not consult with Northwest tribal leaders before deciding to move these significant pieces of tribal history thousands of miles away from the Northwest, depriving local tribes of access to these critical historical documents.

More information here: 



1 comments:

Anonymous,  January 5, 2021 at 9:30 AM  

I understand and agree why the archive needs to stay here and rightly so. Yet when ferguson want to talk about unlawful conduct. He should go after Jay Inslee for breaking his oath to protect our state constitution. Since our constitution prohibits an income tax. But that will never happen.

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