DEVELOPMENT… The story will be updated as new information can be verified. Updated 3 times
WASHINGTON – A Native American is appointed US Treasurer, a historic first.
The White House on Tuesday announced President Joe Biden’s intention to appoint Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba as his administration establishes an Office of Tribal and Indigenous Affairs in the Treasury Department, which will be overseen by the U.S. Treasurer.
The Treasurer’s duties include overseeing the United States Mint, serving as a liaison with the Federal Reserve, and overseeing the Treasury’s Office of Consumer Policy. The Treasurer’s signature appears on the US currency.
“It is especially important that our indigenous voices be respected,” Malerba said in a statement. “This appointment underscores this administration’s commitment to do just that. I look forward to serving our communities as treasurer and for the work ahead.
Malerba, who is the lifetime chief of the Mohegan Indian Tribe, previously worked as a registered nurse, according to the tribe’s website, and held various positions in tribal government. 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 in prepared remarks ahead of the announcement.
“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.
Yellen was scheduled to visit the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Tuesday, the first time a Treasury Secretary has visited a tribal nation. She is expected to focus on how the US bailout has affected tribal communities.
The relief program has allocated more than $30 billion to tribal governments, some of which oversee the country’s poorest communities.
For example, 59% of Rosebud Sioux Tribal households live in poverty, according to US government estimates. Indigenous communities have also borne the brunt of the waves of COVID-19-related deaths and drug overdoses.
That makes the need for representation at the federal level all the more important, says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who specializes in federal appointments.
With Malerba at the treasury, the agency “can work with individual indigenous tribes to work on economic issues that are critical to indigenous peoples,” he said.
He added that “I think it’s true in some western states that Native Americans are a significant voting group.”
There are about 9.7 million people in the United States who identify as American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the 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.
A March 2022 White House report on Native American voting rights indicates that “Indigenous voters are less committed to political parties and more concerned about what candidates can do to support Indigenous communities.”
Biden, a Democrat, has taken several steps to demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations, including naming Deb Haaland as the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior. Biden has also appointed at least three Native American judges — Lauren J. King, Sunshine Suzanne Sykes and Lydia Griggsby — to the federal court system.
Biden released the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, in an effort to refocus the federal holiday previously dedicated to explorer Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Indigenous peoples.
The Haaland-led administration is leading a reflection on the US government’s role in Native American boarding schools, which stripped children of their cultures and identities. On Wednesday, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the Interior Department’s report on its investigation into the federal government’s past oversight of Native American boarding schools.