JUNEAU, AK – The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) joined the Washington Attorney General’s Office as co-litigants in a lawsuit to stop the sale of the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) facility in Seattle, Washington. The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court Monday to challenge the legality of the agencies’ pre-sale decision-making process. The complaint asserts claims against the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB) and the General Services Administration (GSA) for violations of the Federal Assets Sale Transfer Act (FASTA), federal agency tribal consultation policies and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).
The NARA facility, which sits on a 10-acre site at the edge of Lake Washington is among a dozen federal properties across the nation slated to be sold. The facility houses a significant number of historical, legal and cultural records relating to Alaska Native and Pacific Northwest tribes.
“The decision to close and sell the facility was made without engaging tribal, state and local officials,” said Tlingit & Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson. “There were no public hearings or consultation where tribes could provide input and now the federal government wants to further remove these vital records from our tribes.”
The approved move is denounced by affected tribes whose records will be moved to different parts of the country which would require a journey of hundreds or even thousands of miles in order to access the records. The removal of the NARA facility from the Pacific Northwest not only jeopardizes public access to critical federal documents, it severely limits the access of Alaska Native and Pacific Northwest tribes to vital records which are largely not available in digital format. Access to these records have aided Pacific Northwest and Alaska tribes in gaining federal tribal recognition, fishing and hunting rights, lands, and even individual petitions for tribal enrollment.
Tlingit & Haida accesses the archives to successfully process Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) claims and pending Native allotment applications pursuant to the 1906 Native Allotment Act. Other records at risk of being relocated include the Tongass National Forest history or the Lingit Aaní “Tlingit Country”, fisheries, subsistence history, location name history, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) sacred sites, historical records of Tlingit & Haida, tribal enrollment records, and census records.
The PBRB along with OMB recommended the closure of the Seattle facility in 2019 once it was identified as “highly valuable” property for sale and redevelopment. The move was approved by the federal government in January 2020 with a fast-track plan to relocate records to NARA storage facilities in Riverside, California and Kansas City, Missouri over an 18-month period.In a press release announcing the Seattle facility’s closure, NARA recognized that its closure “will have a negative impact on researchers, Federal agencies, and other customers that use our facility.”
On October 1, 2020, Tlingit & Haida’s Tribal Assembly adopted a resolution opposing the closure of the facility which cites, “The decision to move these materials from the Northwest region shows an absolute disregard for their importance and significance to the 272 federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.”
This is not the first time Alaska tribes have had their access to records eroded. In 2014, the National Archives of Alaska was closed due to cost-cutting efforts which moved records such as Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Bureau of Land Management and Native Allotment records to the Seattle facility.
“If the involved federal agencies had used accurate data or reached out to stakeholders, they would have learned that the National Archives facility in Seattle is routinely used by researchers, historians and tribes in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” said President Peterson. “The role of this specific location is crucial for tribal governments and Native corporations in Alaska.”