SEATTLE - In the brief time allotted to her during a virtual public comment session on the sale of the National Archives building in Seattle, Jan. 19, Colville Business Council member Karen Condon stated the federal government failed in their obligations of tribal consultation in considering the sale.
“The Colville Tribes were never consulted during Public Procurement Review Board’s process for formulating its recommendations or during Office of Management and Budget’s consideration of those recommendations despite the fact the closure of this facility will have substantial direct effects on the Colville Tribes and is therefore subject to provisions of Executive Order 13175, Consultation and Coordination of Indian Tribal Governments,” said Condon. “Furthermore the closure of this facility is a federal undertaking as defined in the National Preservation Act of 1966 that summarily mandates consultation of tribes. Furthermore the PPRB did not consider the negative impact to tribes and other stakeholders as required by Section 11 (B) (3) of the Federal Assets Transfer Act.”
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson hosted the virtual session, inviting stakeholders and the public to issue comments about how the potential sale will affect them.
“My team has really put this together so that we can hear from you on an issue that all of us care about, and that is the future of the National Archives here in Seattle that serves this entire region - Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho - with really the DNA of our region,” said Ferguson. “This is being recorded and we are having a transcript made of this hearing. We are treating this as a public hearing and we are going to take the recording and the transcript and send it to the federal agencies that have been involved in the decisions to sell the National Archives and move those records a thousand miles away. As you probably know, there has been no public process for this very significant decision… It is shocking, to be honest, that a decision of this magnitude would not merit any interest in these agencies from hearing from all of you in what this really means.”
According to a press release from Ferguson’s office, in 2019 PBRB identified a dozen federal properties around the United States. as “High Value Assets” and recommended their sale. Among those properties was the National Archives building in Seattle. No local, state or tribal officials were consulted in its initial selection. A month later, OMB approved PBRB’s list. Along with the sale, PBRB issued a plan to move the records kept here to Kansas City, Missouri and Riverside, California.
The press release further notes in October 2020 PBRB officials claimed COVID-19’s effects on the commercial real estate market justified an accelerated bundled sale of 12 federal properties across the country. The Seattle building is included with a mishmash of federal properties, including what PBRB called an “obsolete and largely vacant” group of eight warehouses in Auburn. PBRB seeks to sell all 12 properties at the same time to a single real estate developer.
On Jan. 8, Ferguson and a legal coalition of 40 tribes, states and community organizations filed a motion for preliminary injunction to halt the federal government’s planned sale of the National Archives building in Seattle.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, asserts the sale violates the conditions Congress placed on agencies’ ability to sell federal properties on an expedited basis and fails to appropriately account for the records’ importance to the Pacific Northwest region. Further, the federal government refused to consult or cooperate with local stakeholders, including tribal governments, in making the decision to sell the property.
The Colville Tribes announced their joining the lawsuit with Ferguson, Jan. 14, but the Colville Tribes’ participation in stopping the sale extends back to early 2020 when the Colville Business Council issued a letter to the Office of Management and Budget expressing their opposition.
The letter reads in part, “The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation relies upon the Federal Archives and Records Center in Seattle for access to critical historical, legislative, judicial and executive documents to support the assertion of our inherent sovereignty. The PBRB’s proposal to move stored records to a facility in Kansas City, Missouri and archived records to Riverside, California, will impose undue logistical and financial burdens on conducting research into these collections. Such burdens are in diametric opposition to the federal government’s trust responsibility to the CTCR. For example a significant portion of the records pertaining to the Colville Indian Agency have not been fully indexed, but the staff at NARA’s facility in Seattle have the institutional knowledge necessary to the successful navigation of this collection. Moving these records, particularly without them being fully indexed, to locations at which staff is family with them will hinder the CTCR’s ability to access documents that are crucial within our history and vital to the assertion of our rights.”
A full copy of the letter can be read at the Tribal Tribune’s website.