For U.S. historians and for the people who rely on historical documents for legal rights, such as the tribes, the role of the National Archives is critical. The main National Archives is far away in Washington, but there are regional offices around the nation, holding absolutely critical federal documents. If you are the Trump administration and especially someone like Mick Mulvaney, who runs of the Office of Budget and Management, this is a problem. The last thing you care about is everyday people having access to the works of government, then or now. Combine that with the glorious ideological goal of firing everyone in government who isn’t serving a right-wing purposes and, not surprisingly, the National Archives gets in the crosshairs.
The government in trying to ram through, with very short notice, the closing of the NARA branch office in Seattle. I have done a good deal of work at this office. More importantly, it is the home of many, many documents the tribes need to make their cases against the violations of their treaties. It sounds like the government wants to sell off the property to developers and move all the archives to the Riverside or Kansas City branch offices. But there are many problems with this. First, if you are a graduate student at a school in the Pacific Northwest, how do you get the money to do your needed research in freaking Kansas City? Second, that is an even bigger deal if you are a member of one of the tribes and the future of your people relies on access to these documents. The Northwest has been the site of many suits, especially over fishing rights, that have relied on these archives being available. Third, if you are in Alaska and you are a tribal member, it’s all of this but doubled. Years ago, Alaska did have its own branch office and it was closed and merged with Seattle. That was bad enough, this would be catastrophic. Fourth, who knows how long it would take for those records to be moved, classified, and available to the public.
There is just no good reason for any of this. But this is also what the war on the public good looks like. For most of you, the National Archives is not really all that important. But some other branch of the federal government is that might not be that important to me. Attacking each of these bits, day by day, year by year, slowly chips away at the functionality of the government entirely, which is the goal of the entire conservative movement. It’s distressing and, in this case, devastating.
From my sources in the Pacific Northwest historical community, it seems that a) the government is trying to ram this through quickly with very little comment period and that b) if it is going to be stopped, it’s going to be the tribes and their access to the legal system that will do it. We’ll see.
Here’s a link from the Alaska Historical Society on taking action to this travesty. I encourage you to do so.