WASHINGTON — A Native American is being appointed U.S. treasurer, a historic first.
The White House on Tuesday announced President Joe Biden’s intent to appoint Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba as his administration establishes an Office of Tribal and Native Affairs at the Treasury Department, which will be overseen by the U.S. treasurer.
The treasurer’s duties include oversight of the U.S. Mint, serving as a liaison with the Federal Reserve and overseeing Treasury’s Office of Consumer Policy. The treasurer’s signature appears on U.S. currency.
“It is especially important that our Native voices are respected,” Malerba said in a statement. “This appointment underscores this Administration’s commitment to doing just that. I am excited to serve 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 has served in various tribal government roles. The tribe’s reservation is located on the Thames River in Uncasville, Connecticut.
“For the first time in history, a Tribal leader and Native woman’s name will be the signature on our currency,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in remarks prepared 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 set 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 American Rescue Plan has affected tribal communities.
The relief package allotted more than $30 billion to Tribal governments, some of which oversee the poorest communities in the nation.
For instance, 59% of Rosebud Sioux Tribal households live in poverty, according to U.S. government estimates. Native communities have also suffered the brunt of waves of COVID-19-related deaths and drug overdoses.
This makes the need for representation at the federal level all the more important, says Carl Tobias, a law professor at University of Richmond who specializes in federal appointments.
With Malerba at Treasury, the agency “can work with individual indigenous tribes to work on economic issues which are critical to Native people,” he said.
He added that “I think it’s true in certain western states that Native Americans are an important voting group.”
There are about 9.7 million people in the U.S. who identify as American Indian and Alaska Native, according to the Census Bureau. And while roughly eight million Native Americans are eligible to cast a ballot, Census surveys estimate that large portions of the population are not registered to vote.
A March 2022 White House report on Native American Voting Rights states that “Native voters are less attached to political parties and are more concerned with what candidates can do to support Native 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 Interior Department. Biden also has appointed at least three Native American judges — Lauren J. King, Sunshine Suzanne Sykes and Lydia Griggsby — to the federal court system.
Biden issued the first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with the intent of refocusing the federal holiday previously dedicated to explorer Christopher Columbus toward an appreciation of Native people.
The administration led by Haaland is leading a reckoning with the U.S. 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.