The erroneous federal decision to close Seattle’s National Archives remains in place, but state efforts offer hope of preserving access to its invaluable historic records. The Legislature should throw its weight behind all work to keep tribal, territorial and immigration documents of the Archives facility within the state of Washington.
No state lawmaker has proposed a symbolic resolution to condemn the decision to move the Archives’ contents — including tribal treaties, case files from the Chinese Exclusion Act and unique genealogical records — from Sand Point Way Northeast to either Riverside, California, or Kansas City, Missouri. Such a gesture would formally recognize the burden closing the northeast Seattle facility would place on Pacific Northwest researchers.
But the Legislature can provide concrete support for the quest to limit the damage done by the announced closure. Senate budget writers should agree to a small but meaningful proviso advanced by the House that could potentially result in keeping at lease some of this regional history in Washington. As proposed by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, the $75,000 appropriation would start the state exploring how it can cooperate with universities, tribal governments and museums to hold onto the federal material.
“In my tribal world, we often go and use that facility,” said Lekanoff, who is Tlingit. “It’s like a grandmother. It holds all the knowledge for the tribes as we’re working on history and cultural research.”
One idea discussed by state officials is moving the federal records to a new home near the planned state archives building near Olympia, which the Legislature approved in 2019. The state facility is not being designed with capacity to take on the federal records, but Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who oversees the archives, said in February she was interested in cultivating a partnership to keep the federal records as local as possible. There is open land adjacent to the site of the new state building, so this possibility should be explored as a viable potential path.
But Olympia is less convenient to Seattle researchers and those who fly in from Alaska and elsewhere than the archives’ current home. The ideal outcome is for federal authorities to overturn the decision to close the Seattle archives building and instead fund all necessary repairs.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is still fighting this decision through bureaucratic channels, via an appeal to federal officials last month. He said he is preparing legal action to challenge the closure. Federal officials should see the wisdom of avoiding yet another court battle with Washington’s government and reverse the closure. If they do not, Ferguson must move ahead with a lawsuit.