Meet the nation’s first Native American US treasurer

Last week, President Joe Biden appointed Mohegan leader Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba as US treasurer and overseer of a new office of tribal and native affairs.

WASHINGTON — Mohegan Chief 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 surviving.

“It’s our job to leave footprints for those who come behind 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 thinking to two new jobs in Washington: Last week, President Joe Biden appointed her US treasurer and overseer of a new office of tribal and native affairs at the Treasury Department.

As part of the first roll, her name will appear on all new US currencies. “I hope to sign the currency from either Chief Lynn Malerba or Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba,” she said, citing the meaning of her name within her “Mutáwi Mutáhash” tribe.

In the latter role, she will think of new ways to help tribes develop their economies to overcome challenges unique to tribal lands.

“Tribes cannot provide tax incentives for their reservations” in the way states and localities would tax economic development, she said. She added that tribes are unable to offer tax-exempt loans for things like concert halls and golf courses like municipalities can.

Helping the tribes develop plans to prosper economically will be beneficial to the rest of the country, she said, adding, “When tribes succeed, everyone succeeds.”

The Mohegan tribe has found success with various businesses including casinos and resorts on the reservation and in places like Atlantic City, the Las Vegas Strip and the International Airport in South Korea. The WNBA team Connecticut Sun is also part of the tribe’s portfolio.

As Treasurer, Malerba will oversee the US Mint, serve as liaison to the Federal Reserve, and oversee the Treasury Department’s Office of Consumer Policy, among other duties.

Malerba spoke about her new duties at the Tribal Community Center and Government Building in Uncasville, Connecticut. According to the Ministry of Finance, Malerba will work at the agency in the coming weeks.

Malerba, who will remain chief for life of the Mohegan tribe — which numbers about 2,400 people — previously worked as a nurse and has served in various tribal government capacities.

She said the Mohegan tribe has grown since the baby boomer generation, when the collective had dwindled to 500 people at one point. The tribe’s reservation is on the River Thames in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“For the first time in history, our currency will be signed by a tribal chief and the name of a local woman,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week in announcing Malerba’s new role.

“Chief Malerba will expand our unique relationship with tribal nations and continue our joint efforts to support the development of tribal economies and economic opportunities for tribal people,” Yellen said.

The Treasury Department’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 funds for coronavirus relief, some delayed by months.

Other tribes sued, claiming they fell short because the Treasury Department relied on inaccurate population data for 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 Alaskan Native, according to the US Census Bureau. And while about eight million Indians are eligible to vote, census polls estimate that large portions of the population are unregistered to vote.

Biden has taken several steps to demonstrate his commitment to tribal nations. He named Deb Haaland the first Native American to head the Department of the Interior and appointed at least three Native American judges to the federal court system.

Haaland, who hails from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, oversees the federal government’s reckoning of its decades-long role in Native American boarding schools that attempted to rob children of their cultures and identities. Haaland is a product of this policy as her grandparents were separated from their families and sent to boarding schools.

Malerba said Native American representation in the federal government is important because, along with others, it can help Americans honor “the culture, the history, and the countries we come from.”

“It’s really unique to be one of the first peoples of the United States to be native to these lands,” she said.

At Treasury, “I first listen and then develop a strategic plan for the future.”

“What excites me the most about this role is being part of the most senior level of Treasury and understanding how we can make change happen.” Meet the nation’s first Native American US treasurer

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