Tara Sweeney. Photo: Navajo Nation Washington Office

Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee in limbo due to corporate connection

The nomination of Tara Sweeney as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is being held up due to her ties to a Native corporation, Alaska Public Media reports.

Nominees of every presidential administration come with business, legal and personal backgrounds that need to be addressed. But the Office of Government Ethics, an independent federal agency, can't seem to figure out how to deal with Sweeney, who is a shareholder and executive for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a Native corporation, and that's the reason she has yet to secure a confirmation hearing in the Senate.

The situation is particularly unique because Congress created the Native corporate system with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. That's unlike other cases in which a nominee could easily sell, divest or re-direct their business interests.

“No Native person should be asked to sell off, or give up their birthright in order to serve in the administration,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told Alaska Public Media.

President Donald Trump nominated Sweeney last October. She has won near universal praise from tribes and Alaska Natives for her work on Native issues so it had been unclear why she was being held up.

"To say that you can't be a Native Alaskan to represent Native Alaskans is unconscionable," Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who would be Sweeney's boss, told the National Congress of American Indians during its winter session in Washington, D.C., last month. "It's like saying the only people that can't represent the [tribal] nations are the nations. That's exactly opposite."

"I have confidence in Tara and we're doing everything we can to get her in there and to get her through," Zinke, the leader of the Department of the Interior, said on February 13.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sweeney would be the first Alaska Native to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. There have been 12 confirmed Assistant Secretaries since 1977.

Prior to the creation of the Assistant Secretary position, the late Morris Thompson, who was Alaska Native, led the Bureau of Indian Affairs from from 1973–1976. He held the title of Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which did not require Senate confirmation.

The Assistant Secretary post has been vacant since January 2016.

Read More on the Story:
Sweeney nomination to Interior Department in limbo (Alaska Public Media March 8, 2018)

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