1st Native American treasurer to push economic development - world cultures

1st Native American treasurer to push economic development

Washington (AFP) – Mohegan leader Marilyn “Lynn” Mallerba, the first Native American treasurer in the United States, comes from a line of leaders who instilled in her the need to keep her tribe healthy and survive.

“Our job is to leave footprints on the road for those who come behind us – so that they find their way easily,” she said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

Now Mallerba, 68, will bring that mindset to two new jobs in Washington: In June, President Joe Biden appointed her US treasurer and supervisor of a new Office of Tribal and Indigenous Affairs at the Treasury Department.

As part of the first round, her name will appear on all new US coins. “I hope to sign the coin for either Chief Lynn Malireba or Chief Money Hearts Lynn Malirpa,” she said, referring to the meaning of her name within her tribe, “Motoi Mothash.”

In her final 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 on their reserves” in the same way that states and local municipalities tax economic development, she said. She added that tribes were unable to offer tax-free bonds for things like concert halls and golf courses like municipalities.

Helping the tribes make plans for economic prosperity will have benefits for the rest of the country, she said, adding: “When the tribes succeed, everyone succeeds.”

The Mohegan Tribe has seen success with many establishments, including casinos and resorts booked and in places like the Atlantic City, the Las Vegas Strip, and the international airport in South Korea. The WNBA team, the Connecticut Sun, is also part of the tribe’s portfolio.

As Treasurer, Mallerba’s duties will include overseeing the US mint, serving as a liaison with the Federal Reserve and overseeing the Treasury’s Office of Consumer Policy.

Mallerba spoke about her new roles from the Tribal Community Center and Government Building in Uncasville, Connecticut. The Treasury Department said Malerba will begin work at the agency in the coming weeks.

Malerba, who will remain chief for life of India’s Mohegan tribe – which consists of about 2,400 people – previously worked as a registered nurse, working in various tribal government roles.

She said the Mohegan Tribe has grown since the baby-boom generation, at one point dropping its number to 500. The tribe’s preserve is located on the River Thames in Uncasville, Connecticut.

“For the first time in history, the name of a tribal leader and an Aboriginal woman will be the signature of our currency,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said when announcing Malireba’s new role last week.

“Chief Malireba will expand our unique relationship with the tribal nations, and continue 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 in 2020 over the distribution of federal coronavirus relief funding, some of which have been delayed for months.

Other tribes sued, claiming it was changed because the Treasury relied on inaccurate demographic data for the tribes. The Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, detailed the agency’s errors in a report published last October. The Treasury Department agreed to update the 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 U.S. Census Bureau. And although nearly eight million Native Americans are eligible to vote, census surveys estimate that large parts of the population are not registered to vote.

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

Haaland, who is of Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, oversees the federal government’s recognition of its decades-old role in Native American boarding schools, which have sought to strip children of their cultures and identities. Haaland is a product of those policies, as her grandparents were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools.

Malerba said indigenous representation in the federal government is important because, along with others, she can help Americans respect “the culture, history, and lands we come from.”

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

At the Treasury, “I will listen first and then develop a strategic plan moving forward.”

“The most exciting thing for me about this role is to be part of the senior leadership at the Treasury and to be able to understand how we can influence change.”


Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed to this report.

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