Sunday, June 13, 2021
June 13, 2021

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Northwest senators introduce bill to halt sale of National Archives at Seattle

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SEATTLE – What once looked like a done deal with the announced closing of the National Archives at Seattle may be unraveling.

On Wednesday, a bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., targeted the sale of the 10-acre Sand Point facility by stating federal property cannot be sold without consultation with “all tribal governments that may be so affected.”

There are four lines in the 23-line amendment that are crucial.

They state: “A Federal civilian real property may not be sold or transferred . . . if the proposed sale or transfer would substantially reduce or eliminate access to Federal agency services by a federally recognized Indian Tribe.”

Already, on Feb. 12 U.S. District Judge John Coughenour granted a preliminary injunction to stop the sale.

At the court hearing, Coughenour said federal officials could have avoided a “public relations disaster” if they had “displayed some sensitivity” to how the closure affected the Northwest.

Set to be moved are the histories of 272 federally recognized tribes in this region, as well as all federal records generated in the Pacific Northwest, including military, land, court, tax and census documents. The collection also includes more than 50,000 original files related to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The federal government plans to move records from here to facilities in Kansas City, Missouri (1,840 miles away), and Riverside, California (1,200 miles away).

Joining in introducing the bill were Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Democrats from Oregon; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican known for her independent streak.

Charlene Nelson, the 81-year-old chairwoman of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe in Pacific County, said, “Oh, wonderful. I am so excited. I wasn’t quite sure I think they were hearing us, all the federal people.”

Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Tribe chairman, said, “We welcome the legislation. This particular action by the federal government magnified the lack of consultation on federal facilities that are extremely important to tribes’ abilities to govern.”

The archives are home to various drafts of tribal treaties. They are important because some crucial items might have been listed in early drafts, but by mistake not included in the final versions. The collection also includes more than 50,000 original files related to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

In a statement, Murray said she’d “continue working with the Biden-Harris administration to explore every option available, including the appropriations process, to ensure that the records and artifacts in the facility remain accessible to local stakeholders.”

The decision in January 2020 to sell the archives here was made by a five-person Public Buildings Reform Board. That’s the little-known entity created in 2016 to find what it deems excess federal property.

Then, board member Angela Styles, a government contracts lawyer based in Washington, D.C., said the board was “not required by statute to seek public input first.”

On Wednesday, Adam Bodner, executive director of the board, had no comment about Murray’s bill.

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