Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday that his office, along with 40 other plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit to halt the sale of the Seattle National Archives building, which could go on sale in a few weeks, if it is not blocked.
“To be honest, these federal agencies don’t care about their legal obligations or the importance of these documents to our region,” Ferguson said. “As a result, this lawsuit is our only recourse to compel the government to obey the law and respect the fact that these irreplaceable records contain our region’s DNA.”
29 nationally recognized tribes, including tribes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, have joined the lawsuit.
Many of the tribal leaders involved in the lawsuit stated that the federal government had not conducted a consultation regarding the sale, calling it an affront to tribal sovereignty.
“Sovereign tribal nations have the absolute right to weigh and decide critical matters that affect our land, territories and resources,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Indian Nation.
Located in the quiet Windermere neighborhood, the 73-year-old building contains historical records of 272 nationally recognized Native American tribes as well as over 50,000 records from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, making it a major source of historical information in the area.
It also includes Alaskan documents and records sent to the facility after the National Archives building in Anchorage closed in 2016. Very little data has been digitized.
The facility was closed in January 2020 and approved for sale by the government along with 12 other “high-quality” federal properties.
At the time, the government estimated the sale could take 18 months and, according to a press release, called for “staying in the building for an additional three years after the sale”.
However, the Public Buildings Reform Board decided to expedite the sale of the properties during a meeting on October 1st. The board reasoned that due to the impact of COVID-19 on the commercial real estate market, an accelerated sale of all 12 properties was required and discussed hiring a broker.
Despite these meetings, the federal government has never notified any local or tribal unit of the impending sale.
“If a consultation were to take place, that [federal government] would have found out that the tribes really wanted these materials around so we could review the things that have been told over the years and that we have learned through oral tradition, “said Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of Port Gambling S. ‘Klallam Tribe.
The Ferguson office has filed several federal freedom of information lawsuits to access documents related to the sale. However, it was pointed out that the documents received have been heavily edited.
If the content is sold, it is expected to be split between archive centers in Riverside, California and Kansas City, Missouri, which means researchers and citizens will have to travel to access the documents.
Leaders in American Asian and Pacific Islander communities also spoke about the importance of archives in preserving their history.
“Most Chinese Americans left little record of their lives and history prior to 1950, which makes the archive’s treasure trove of files related to the Chinese Exclusion Law all the more valuable,” said Connie So, president of OCA Asian Pacific Advocates – Greater Seattle Chapter.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard by a judge in a few weeks.