In 1969, a clerical error resulted in the Samish Indian Nation in Washington state suddenly being dropped from the federal government’s list of recognized tribes. It took almost three decades of wading through piles of historical documents and painstaking litigation before its members were able to regain that recognition, along with the federal benefits and protections that come with it.
Their success hinged on unearthing a wealth of documents – court cases, family histories, tribal correspondence with the federal government – much of which was found at the National Archives facility in Seattle, according to Tom Wooten, the Samish Indian Nation tribal chairman.
“It was a struggle but we persevered through it,” Wooten said. “And to be honest, if that information wasn’t available at the archives, it would be really hard to bring any case like that today.”
But the archive, which sits on a 10-acre site at the edge of Lake Washington, is under threat. It is among a dozen federal properties across the US expected to be put up for sale next year after being identified as “high value assets”, a move that could deprive the Native American community in the Pacific north-west of access to critical resources.
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*Photo by justgrimes