Geopolitics

A plan to sell a federal archives building in Seattle runs into problems: “The DNA of our region resides there.”

Feliks Banel, a Seattle historian and radio host, alerted him in January when a listener drew his attention to a dark message on a website monitoring government real estate.

Among the dozen of “high-value assets” put up for sale was the Federal Archives and Record Center – a huge building that has long been a treasure trove for anyone interested in the history of the Pacific Northwest or Alaska.

“The 19th century changed the northwestern United States for thousands of years,” said Banel, who produces historical features for KIRO-FM (97.3). “The federal government has been the biggest player in changing the landscape and culture, and all of the records – and any hope of understanding what went wrong or what went right – are in this building.”

The plan to sell the building as early as next year and move its contents to archive centers in California and Missouri sparked a battle between the Trump administration and regional historians, political leaders and Native Americans who say local access to the Keeping the collection is crucial.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Friday he intended to file a lawsuit to block the sale, arguing that the U.S. Bureau of Administration and Households had decided to discharge the property without the Duly notify the public or solicit opinions from Native American tribes from other groups.

“What’s so crazy about this decision is that you have no lawsuit, notify anyone, and treat this property like a random warehouse that just needs to be sold,” he said in an interview with The Times. “Our region’s DNA is there, and it’s frustrating when the federal government treats it so carelessly.”

The bipartisan opposition to the sale includes all US Senators from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, as well as eight members of the House of Representatives. One hope is that the Biden government will stop it.

Officials plan to sell the Seattle National Archives building and move its collection to California and Missouri.

(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

The National Archives in Seattle has about a million boxes of records.

The National Archives in Seattle has about a million boxes of records.

(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

The 200,000-square-foot building sits on 10 acres on Lake Washington and houses approximately one million boxes of source documents and records on public land, courts, military, taxes, and censuses, most of them in their original form, and microfilm publications.

The collection contains contract documents for more than 270 nationally recognized tribes and records from camps held in US citizens of Japanese descent during World War II.

There are sketches of the Aleutians seen from a boat in the 1890s and forest service teletypes broadcast when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.

About 50,000 files come from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which aimed to limit the influx of workers from China, including biographical details, letters, photos, and interrogation notes on Chinese people entering through ports in Washington and Oregon.

A 1907 photo on file 1483 shows a solemn 9-year-old girl named Soong May-ling who would one day become Taiwan’s first lady. Madame Chiang Kai Shek helped lobby for the repeal of the exclusion law.

Volunteers from the Seattle area indexed the Exclusion Law files and created an extensive database of family histories.

Preserving the archives in the northwest is particularly important to Indians, said Jon Shellenberger, chief archaeologist for the Yakama Nation.

The 1856 Plat map of Seattle in the National Archives shows Green Lake, Lake Union and the

The 1856 Plat map of Seattle in the National Archives shows Green Lake, Lake Union and the Denny Claim.

(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

“We had to adapt and use paper as our own weapon to fight for our sovereignty,” he said. “And everything is fine in this collection.”

Brandon Reynon, the Puyallup Tribe’s Historic Preservation Commissioner, said sharing and moving the collection would create even more barriers in the ways of Native Americans, whose history has been pushed aside by government-funded schools geared towards assimilation.

“The boarding schools’ mission was to erase our history, which in some cases was literally knocked out of us,” he said.

The move further complicates many Alaskans who lost local access to federal records in 2014 when the National Archives collection in Anchorage was moved to the Seattle building.

“There was a great outcry from people when it was released,” said Pennelope Goforth, an Anchorage writer and historian. “The promise was, ‘Well, we’re going to digitize a lot of this material, so don’t worry.'”

According to a report prepared for the Public Buildings Reform Board – a five-member government committee that first recommended the sale – the Seattle building has a deferred maintenance backlog of $ 2.4 million and annual O&M costs of more than $ 350,000.

Talmage Hocker, a Kentucky commercial real estate manager who was appointed to the board by President Trump in 2018, said in a brief interview Friday that the property is on track to be sold next year in a portfolio with other federal properties.

Hocker said the board had no authority to examine the relevance of an institution to a region. Much of the properties “are old and outdated and need to be combined,” he said.

The sale of the Seattle property, which is considered a prime location for condominium towers with lake and mountain views, means tax revenue will finally be generated, he said.

“This building doesn’t get a lot of visitors,” he said. “It can become part of the community, contrary to what it is today.”

Rhonda Farrar, a member of the Tlingit tribe, is pleased to find a genealogy of her family with indigenous names.

Rhonda Farrar, a member of the Tlingit tribe, is pleased to find a genealogy of her family with indigenous names.

(Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

Ferguson called Hocker’s idea that the archives are not part of the community “offensive”.

“It shows that they have no idea what they are doing with this property or what it means for this region,” he said. “This statement reflects the federal government’s utter disregard for tribal and other communities, for whom this facility contains invaluable and irreplaceable historical records.”

Ferguson said his late father, a Boeing worker fascinated by the story, is a regular at the Seattle Archives. “He loved the place,” said Ferguson.

The land the building now occupies was once farmed by the Uyeji family, who had been in the United States for decades when the federal government ordered 120,000 people of Japanese descent into internment camps in 1942.

Even after the Uyejis were freed, they never returned to the farm, which was sold and then sentenced by the U.S. Navy to build a camp, according to an archivist quoted by Ferguson’s office in an August press release.

The warehouse later became the archive building. The collection contains a key to the front door of the family’s former home.

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