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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week, 25 Senators from the Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and Idaho congressional delegations — led by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — signed onto a letter supporting a halt to the sale of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) facility in Seattle.

The letter, sent to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), came at the heels of a district court’s decision to temporarily block the sale.

In October 2020, the Public Building Reform Board (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, though the federal government did not inform any stakeholders of this decision.

The National Archives building hosts exclusive and un-digitized tribal and treaty records. 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 to NARA's Seattle director, only “.001% of the facility’s 56,000 cubic feet of records are digitized and available online.”

Senators sent a similar letter to OBM in Jan. 2020, urging a rejection of the sale.

On Jan. 4, 2021, the states of Washington and Oregon, along with 35 tribal governments and Native organizations in four states filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington asking the Court to declare that NARA’s Seattle facility ineligible for sale. 

The following month, a judge established a likelihood of success for the plaintiff on their claims that the sale violated mandatory conditions Congress placed on the agency, including the ability to sell federal properties on an expedited basis and appropriately account for the records’ importance to the Pacific Northwest region. Additionally, the federal government failed to fulfill required consultations with local stakeholders, including tribal governments, in its decision to sell the property.

“We ask that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) acknowledge the Court’s ruling and support the plaintiff’s position that the Seattle NARA facility cannot be sold and these vital records must remain in the Pacific Northwest,” the letter, addressed to OBM acting director Rob Fairweather reads. “The process leading to the proposed sale of the facility under the Federal Assets and Transfer Act (FASTA) was legally flawed and importantly, OMB failed to consult with Tribal governments and organizations in violation of its own Tribal consultation policies.”

Senators also stressed the importance of archival access for several different user groups. 

“The NARA facility in Seattle contains irreplaceable records that are critical to the Tribes in our states, as well as to state agencies, universities, teachers, students, and researchers,” the letter said. “The removal of the records from the region would make it nearly impossible for our constituents to access them.”

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
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Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.