Tara Sweeney. Photo: Navajo Nation Washington Office
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Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee Tara Sweeney set for confirmation hearing



Tara Sweeney, the Trump administration's nominee to lead the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is going before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for her confirmation hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

The committee typically meets at 2:30pm Eastern to conduct its business. But in a sign of Sweeney's historic nomination -- she would be the first Alaska Native to serve as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs -- lawmakers will convene the hearing to 4pm, giving supporters back home in Alaska, where it will be noon, a chance to fit the webcast into their schedules.

"Tara Mac Lean Sweeney" is also listed as the only witness on the agenda, which isn't unusual for a confirmation hearing. But it's likely she will be given a glowing introduction by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a member of the committee and a long-time supporter.

"She is an expert on energy, infrastructure, broadband, economic development, Native self-determination, and a wide range of policy issues that will come before her," Murkowski said when President Donald Trump announced Sweeney's nomination last October.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Tara Sweeney Speaks at the Alaska Federation of Natives

Sweeney's position is listed as "executive vice president" for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, one of the Alaska Native regional corporations established through an act of Congress. The firm supports her nomination.

"I’m pleased to see the federal government is recognizing what Alaskans have known for quite some time – that Tara is a tireless and effective advocate for balanced Native American policy," said Rex A. Rock Sr., the president and CEO of Arctic Slope.

Following Trump's announcement, Sweeney outlined some of her priorities should she join the administration. She said she plans to work with tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiians "on innovative solutions for lifting up our communities."

"I am motivated to work with Indian Country to find efficiencies inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs, improve service delivery and culturally relevant curriculum in the Bureau of Indian Education, and create a more effective voice for tribes throughout the federal government," Sweeney added


Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs

If confirmed by the Senate, Sweeney, who is Inupiat, wouldn't just be known as the first Alaska Native to serve as Assistant Secretary She'd be just the second woman in that role -- the first was Ada Deer, a citizen of the Menominee Nation who served between 1993 and 1997.

Sweeney would also be one of the few Assistant Secretary picks without a connection to Oklahoma. Of the 12 confirmed Assistant Secretaries, half have been citizens of tribes based in Oklahoma, or had a parent from an Oklahoma-based tribe.

The last confirmed Assistant Secretary was Kevin Washburn, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. He announced his departure in December 2015, toward the end of the Obama administration.

The BIA, an agency that also includes the Bureau of Indian Education, has been overseen by an "acting" Assistant Secretary since then, or by other political officials at the Department of the Interior.

The list of confirmed Assistant Secretaries since the post's creation in 1977, follows:
• 1977–1978: Forrest Gerard (Blackfeet Nation)
• 1979–1981: William E. Hallett (Ohkay Owingeh and Navajo Nation)
• 1981–1984: Kenneth L. Smith (Warm Springs Tribes)
• 1985–1989: Ross Swimmer (Cherokee Nation)
• 1989–1993: Eddie Frank Brown (Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Tohono O'odham Nation)
• 1993–1997: Ada E. Deer (Menominee Nation)
• 1997–2001: Kevin Gover (Pawnee Nation)
• 2001–2003: Neal A. McCaleb (Chickasaw Nation)
• 2004–2005: Dave Anderson (Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe and Choctaw Nation)
• 2007–2008: Carl J. Artman (Oneida Nation)
• 2009–2012: Larry Echo Hawk (Pawnee Nation)
• 2012–2015: Kevin K. Washburn (Chickasaw Nation)

In Her Own Words

A day after Alaska's Congressional delegation spilled the beans on Sweeney's nomination, she offered some remarks in a press release from the Department of the Interior:
“I am honored to be nominated to serve Indian Country in this capacity. My goal is to develop strong relationships with Tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian Organizations to work on innovative solutions for lifting up our communities. I am motivated to work with Indian Country to find efficiencies inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs, improve service delivery and culturally relevant curriculum in the Bureau of Indian Education, and create a more effective voice for Tribes throughout the Federal Government. I am humbled by the confidence President Trump and Secretary [Ryan] Zinke have shown in me and ready to serve.”

She also took to the stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage last year following the announcement. She has served on the board of the organization, the largest of its kind in the state, since 2007, and has served as its co-chair.

"I'm honored to be nominated for this position and for those who know me, you know that I will be working very hard," Sweeney said on October 19, 2017.

"I certainly am up for the task if confirmed," she said.

The Trump Indian Affairs Team

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs -- Tara Sweeney, Inupiat from Alaska. Nominated in October 2017 but not confirmed.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs -- John Tahsuda, Kiowa. Joined September 2017.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development -- Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw. Joined June 2017, departed under mysterious circumstances in December 2017.

Biographical information on Tara Sweeney was provided by the White House when her nomination was originally announced on October 16, 2017:
Ms. Sweeney is the executive vice president of external affairs for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), the largest locally owned and operated business in Alaska, owned by approximately 13,000 Iñupiat Eskimo members and 12,000 employees worldwide. Ms. Sweeney grew up in rural Alaska and has spent a lifetime advocating for responsible Indian energy policy, rural connectivity, Arctic growth, and Native American self-determination. Ms. Sweeney served as chair of the Arctic Economic Council from 2015-2017. In 2013, Ms. Sweeney served as the co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and 2003, Ms. Sweeney served as special assistant for rural affairs and education in Governor Frank Murkowski’s administration. Honored in 2008 as a “Top Forty Under 40″ business leader, Ms. Sweeney was also inducted into the Anchorage ATHENA Society in 2017. A graduate of Cornell University, Ms. Sweeney currently lives in Anchorage with her family. Ms. Sweeney is tribal member of the Native Village of Barrow and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Nomination of Tara Mac Lean Sweeney of Alaska to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior (May 9, 2018)

Related Stories:
Bureau of Indian Affairs nominee finally lands confirmation hearing (May 1, 2018)
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