The Senate Thursday unanimously voted to confirm Tara Sweeney as the Interior Department's assistant secretary for Indian affairs. She is the first Alaska Native to hold that post and only the second woman.
The assistant secretary is responsible for developing and executing federal policy toward federally recognized tribes as well as individual trust beneficiaries. She will be the principal voice within the government for American Indians and Alaska Natives. She will also be the agent for exercising the federal, tribal government-to-government relationship. The assistant secretary also has operational authority over the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education.
Sweeney's confirmation was celebrated from coast coast.
At a reception in Anchorage, Gov. Bill Walker, an Independent, praised the Senate action and said this was an example of Alaskans working together. He later tweeted: "So proud of her homegrown leadership, and so looking forward to the integrity and Alaska values she'll bring to DC!"
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a previous statement: "“She is a results-driven team leader and coalition builder who has an impressive combination of business acumen and service to her community. Her lifelong active engagement in Native American policy development and her outreach, advocacy, and organization skills are the combination we need to carry out the President’s reform initiative for Indian Country. I look forward to welcoming her to the Department."
The National Congress of American Indians issued a statement saying it "applauds the swift confirmation ... The Office of the Assistant Secretary—Indian Affairs is a key office in the fiduciary responsibility of the federal government to American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. Congratulations to Ms. Sweeney on her confirmation, and we look forward to working together with the Assistant Secretary as she transitions into office."
“I believe that if anyone is up to this hard and difficult task that it is Tara Sweeney,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said previously. “She has the determination and tenacity to take on this challenge and achieve remarkable things in her position. She truly has a heart for all Native people. As a proud Inupiaq, she has lived first-hand the challenges that many in Indian Country face.”
“Tara has a long history of relentlessly advocating for Alaska Native cultural values, rights, and economic opportunity,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a recent statement. “She will bring this focus and determination to all Indigenous people throughout the country. I am absolutely certain that there is no one who will work harder for the rights, for the economic empowerment, and for the culture of America’s First Peoples than Tara Sweeney. It’s a great day for Alaska and a great day for our country.”
“Tara is a natural leader and has been an influential voice for American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Rep. Don Young said. “Throughout her years of dedicated service to Alaska Native communities, she has championed the economic and social well-being of our First Peoples and the spirit of tribal self-determination. Her career has been marked by many notable successes and I’m very proud that she has been entrusted to positively shape the future of BIA.”
The Interior Department said Sweeney grew up in rural Alaska and has spent a lifetime actively engaged in state and national policy arenas focused on advocating for responsible Indian energy policy, rural broadband connectivity, Arctic growth and Native American self-determination. She has served her Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and its subsidiaries in a variety of capacities for nearly two decades. The $2.6 billion corporation is the largest locally-owned and operated business in Alaska, with about 13,000 Iñupiat Eskimo members and 12,000 employees worldwide. It is diversified in six major business sectors, including energy support services, industrial services, construction, petroleum refining and marketing, government services, and resource development.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports
(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)