1st Native American Treasurer to Push Economic Development |
WASHINGTON — Chief Mohegan Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, the nation’s first Native American treasurer, comes from a line of chiefs who instilled in her the need to keep her tribe healthy and survive.
“It’s our job to leave footprints in the path of those who follow us – so they can find their way easily,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Now Malerba, 68, will bring that mindset to two new jobs in Washington: Last week, President Joe Biden named her U.S. Treasurer and overseer of a new Office of Tribal and Native Affairs at the Treasury Department .
As part of the first role, his name will appear on all new US currency. “I hope to sign the currency either Chief Lynn Malerba or Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba,” she said, referring to the meaning of her name within her tribe, “Mutáwi Mutáhash.”
In this latter role, she will think of new ways to help tribes develop their economies to overcome challenges unique to tribal lands.
“Tribes cannot offer tax incentives on their reservations” in the same way that states and local municipalities would tax economic development, she said. She added that tribes have not been able to offer tax-exempt bonds for things like concert halls and golf courses like municipalities can.
Helping tribes develop plans to prosper economically will have benefits for the rest of the country, she said, adding: “When tribes succeed, everyone succeeds.”
The Mohegan Tribe has found success with a variety of businesses, including casinos and resorts on the reservation and in places like Atlantic City, the Las Vegas Strip, and South Korea International Airport. The WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, is also part of the tribe’s portfolio.
As Treasurer, Malerba’s duties will include overseeing the United States Mint, serving as a liaison with the Federal Reserve and overseeing the Treasury’s Office of Consumer Policy.
Malerba spoke about his new roles at the Tribal Community Center and Government Building in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Treasury said Malerba would start working at the agency in the coming weeks.
Malerba, who will remain lifelong chief of the Mohegan Indian tribe – made up of around 2,400 people – previously worked as a registered nurse and held various positions in tribal government.
She said the Mohegan tribe has grown since the baby boomer generation, where at one point the collective had dwindled to 500 people. The tribe’s reservation is located on the River Thames in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“For the first time in history, a tribal leader and the name of an indigenous woman will be the signature on our currency,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said when announcing Malerba’s new role last week. .
“Chief Malerba will expand our unique relationship with tribal nations, continuing our joint efforts to support the development of tribal economies and economic opportunities for tribal citizens,” Yellen said.
The Treasury’s relationship with the tribes has faced challenges even recently.
More than a dozen Native American tribes sued the Treasury Department in 2020 over the distribution of federal coronavirus relief funding, some of which have been delayed for months.
Other tribes sued, alleging they had been wronged because the Treasury Department relied on inaccurate demographic data for the tribes. The Government Accountability Office, the audit arm of Congress, detailed the agency’s missteps in a report released last October. The Treasury Department agreed to update its tribal consultation policy, but the government watchdog said Wednesday it had not seen a revised document.
Malerba is one of 9.7 million people in the United States who identify as Native American or Alaska Native, according to the US Census Bureau. And while about eight million Native Americans are eligible to vote, census surveys estimate that a large portion of the population is not registered to vote.
Biden has taken several steps to demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations. He named Deb Haaland as the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior and appointed at least three Native American judges to the federal court system.
Haaland, a native of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is overseeing the federal government’s consideration of his decades-long role in Native American boarding schools, which sought to strip children of their cultures and identities. Haaland is the product of these policies, as his grandparents were taken from their families and sent to boarding schools.
Malerba said Indigenous representation in the federal government is important because she, along with others, can help Americans honor “the culture, history, and lands from which we come.”
“It’s really unique to be one of the first people in the United States, to be indigenous to these lands,” she said.
At the Treasury, “I will first listen and then develop a strategic plan for the future.”
“What is most exciting for me in this role is being part of the senior management of the Treasury and being able to understand how we can influence change.”