President Trump nominates Alaskan for assistant secretary of Indian Affairs
President Trump has named an Alaska Native as assistant secretary of Indian Affair, an announcement Alaska’s Congressional delegation calls historic.
As an Assistant Secretary, Tara Sweeney will oversee the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Alaska officials say it may be the highest federal appointment ever for an Alaska Native.
Sweeney is well known in Alaska Native leadership circles. She’s a former co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and is currently the executive vice president of external affairs for Arctic Slope Corporation. She’s also chair of the Arctic Economic Council.
Sen. Dan Sullivan called the appointment historic, not just for Alaskans but the country:
“I’ve worked with Tara Sweeney for years and I have witnessed first-hand her integrity, her strong leadership skills and her devotion to public service,” Sullivan said in a statement. "Tara has a deep love for our state and people, and is relentless in her commitment to securing a better future for Alaska and the nation. With her long history of advocating for Alaska Native cultural values, rights, and economic opportunity, I can’t think of anyone better to have as our nation’s next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Sweeney is an expert on energy, infrastructure, broadband and economic development:
“Tara has a very strong record of professionalism and accomplishment in Alaska, across the country, and internationally, especially with the indigenous people of the circumpolar north," said Murkowski. "She has significant experience on Arctic issues and chaired the Arctic Economic Council. 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. Secretary Zinke could not have chosen a better leader to help him fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility, and I know Tara has the heart and drive to excel in this position.”
Gov. Bill Walker said with her experience, she will serve the nation well:
“Tara’s selection for this position is cause for celebration in Alaska. In each of my conversations with Secretary Zinke, I have encouraged him to include Alaskans for significant roles in his department,” said Governor Walker. “Tara’s leadership in seeking self-determination and economic development for the people of the Arctic has been exemplary. As an Inupiaq tribal and corporate leader, she has sought the necessary balance between economic development and sustaining the ways of life and cultures of Alaska’s First People. While many will be sad to see her leave ASRC, Tara’s expertise will serve our state and nation well in this new role.”
The assistant secretary of Indian Affairs is one of five assistant secretaries at the Department of the Interior. Joe Balash, who served as Natural Resources Commissioner under Gov. Sean Parnell, was recently appointed an assistant secretary of Land and Minerals management. That means, if the nominations are approved by the U.S. Senate, Alaskans would hold two of the five secretary positions. The appointments are pending
Sweeney is an Inupiaq, a graduate of Barrow High School and Cornell University in New York. She’s the daughter of the late Eileen Maclean, who served as a state representative.
She is also a winner of the Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics pageant and played a supporting role the movie, “On the Ice,” which was filmed on the North Slope.
KTVA's Rhonda McBride contributed to this story.