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A way to hold the past in your hand

Don’t sell the Sand Point Archives

The National Archives at Seattle holds 56,000 cubic feet (1 million boxes) of permanent records, including documents and artifacts from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska.  Access to these documents and artifacts is particularly important to genealogists, historians, writers, and others who seek a more intimate understanding of and connection with our region’s past.

The Archive at Seattle holds treaty records for 272 federally recognized Native American Tribes and other unrecognized groups, Chinese Exclusion Act Records, and Japanese Internment Records. These records and documents contain intimate and tangible details of our region’s history, details that bring to life stories of our past that matter to the present and to our future.

For example, information contained at the Seattle National Archive was critically important for federal recognition of the Klamath Tribes in 1986. Few of the documents are digitized, so physical access is critical for local historians, writers, genealogists, and tribal members to access the material.

For many, being in the physical presence of documents and artifacts is an important part of the research process. There’s an emotional charge in finding a handwritten document, a photograph, or a record that offers insight into the past you are attempting to assemble, a past that suddenly surges into the present moment. It’s as if the document or material item possesses the energy of the original moment — it’s an experience of the past collapsing into the present, and the present meeting the past, an immediate sensation of connection.

The National Archives in Seattle, is currently closed due to Covid, and this means a temporary loss of touch and intimacy for those seeking knowledge from the past.  But the threat of permanent loss looms with the plan to sell the Seattle Archives Property and move all of the records.

Moving these regional documents to far away parts of the country is beyond an inconvenience; it is a form of displacement; a way of detaching and distancing something that forms a part of this place.  This is underscored by the list of tribes who are parties to AG Ferguson’s 2021 lawsuit to prevent the sale and closure of the Seattle facility. To honor the treaties, to understand the depth and richness of our shared past, we need to honor these tribal members’ access to the treaties and other historical records that belong to them.

Sand Point Archive
Sand Point Archive
Sand Point Archive

Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
Duwamish Tribe
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon
Hoh Indian Tribe
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Kalispell Tribe of Indians
The Klamath Tribes
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Nez Perce Tribe
NookSack Indian Tribe
Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
Puyallup Tribe of Indians
Quileute Tribe of the Quileute Reservation
Samish Indian Nation
Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians
Skokomish Indian Tribe
Snoqualmie Indian Tribe
Spokane Tribe of Indians
Squaxin Island Tribe
Suquamish Tribe
Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
Tanana Chiefs Conference
Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
Upper Skagit Indian Tribe
Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation


Kathleen Byrd teaches English and poetry at SPSCC and is currently researching links between ancestry, place, and belonging.

Photos from the Sand Point Archive:  Metlakahtla children; Iditarod dog race winner; entryway of the building housing the National Archives at Sand Point. These and other photographs from the archives are from a press release issued by the Attorney General describing the suit.  You can find more information by searching

It’s not just a real estate deal

Washington AG Bob Ferguson has sued the federal government for illegally proceeding with the sale of the National Archives building in Seattle. The Trump Administration speeded up an earlier decision about selling the facility, announcing that it would award the contract to sell the building to a real estate broker this spring. The building’s irreplaceable, un-digitized records are slated to be shipped more than a thousand miles away to archive centers in Kansas City, Missouri and Riverside, California. This will effectively eliminate public access to the records. Twenty-nine federally recognized tribes, Alaskan tribal entities, and tribal communities from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska, as well as nine community organizations, historical preservation societies and museums and the state of Oregon joined Ferguson’s lawsuit.  The AG website offers more details about the tangled path of the Trump Administration’s effort to sell the Archives facility  along with a taste of what’s in the Archives:

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