National Archives Indian Records Discarded
Assoicated Press - JOHN HEILPRIN
Sep 23, 2005
WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal officials are investigating how National Archives documents of interest to Indians suing the Interior Department were found discarded in a trash bin and a wastebasket.
The discovery came to light on Sept. 1, when Archives staff noticed federal records in one of the trash bins behind the National Archives Building near the Capitol. They notified the Archives' inspector general, Paul Brachfeld, whose staff recovered the documents.
They found at least a portion of the documents were Bureau of Indian Affairs records dating to the 1950s, according to Jason Baron of the Archives' Office of General Counsel, in a letter last week to an Interior Department official.
Brachfeld's office began investigating, and ``what appear to be Indian records were discovered in a waste basket in the stack areas at Main Archives,'' Baron wrote. Taken together, the two dumping incidents ``may be intentional acts aimed at unlawfully removing or disposing of permanent records from the Interior Department,'' he wrote.
Lawyers for the Indian plaintiffs suing the Interior Department over lost royalties ran across Baron's letter this week in a routine court filing by Justice Department lawyers on behalf of Interior's Office of Trust Records.
Dennis Gingold, the plaintiff's lead attorney, said the discovery represents more of ``the same repugnant, desperate actions we've come to expect'' from the Interior Department.
Dan DuBray, an Interior Department spokesman, pointed out that the documents were not in the custody of his agency. He said the department was told by the National Archives that all the discarded documents had been found within restricted locations at the Archives.
``We have every confidence that the inspector general of the National Archives will get to the bottom of this very serious issue,'' he said.
Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, said ``a limited number of boxes'' were found within trash containers in the loading area and in wastebaskets in the stack areas - both within secure locations.
The Interior Department ``had nothing to do with it,'' Cooper said. ``This is a problem at the National Archives, not the Interior Department.''
Cooper said Archivist of the United States Allen Weinstein had directed increased security measures in the stacks and loading docks, including monitoring trash disposal and ensuring all stack doors remain locked.
Congress found problems in 1994 with Interior's administration of 260,000 Indian trust accounts containing $400 million. Two years later, Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Indian tribe and others filed suit. They allege the department cheated about 500,000 Indians out of more than $100 billion, by mismanaging oil, gas, grazing, timber and other royalties from their lands dating to 1887. They have offered to settle for $27.5 billion.