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First Native American woman set to head Treasury

June 21, 2022

US President Joe Biden has nominated Mohegan Indian Tribe Lifetime Chief Marilynn Malerba to oversee the US Mint. It marks the first time a Native American's signature will appear on the US currency.

Marilynn "Lynn" Malerba stands next to a photograph of late Chief Ralph Sturges at Tribal offices in Uncasville, Conn., on March 4, 2010.
Marilynn 'Lynn' Malerba was appointed lifetime chief of the Mohegan Indian Tribe in 2010, when this photo was takenImage: Jessica Hill/AP Photo/picture alliance

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was set to announce the nomination of Marilynn Malerba as US treasurer on Tuesday.

The nomination comes after a gap of more than two years without a treasurer. It comes as Biden's administration establishes an Office of Tribal and Native Affairs at the Treasury Department, which Malerba will oversee as part of her role.

What does the job entail?

Malerba's duties will include oversight of the US Mint and the Treasury's Office of Consumer Policy, as well as serving as a liaison with the Federal Reserve. The signature of the treasurer appears on US bank notes.

"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.

The treasurer position has been vacant since January 2020.

The nomination also means that Yellen's signature can be added to the US currency, as adding a signature was prohibited without a treasurer in place.

Since Yellen took office last year, new dollar banknotes have continued to carry former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's signature.

Native Americans disenfranchised

Who is Marilynn Malerba?

Malerba has been the lifetime chief of the Mohegan Indian Tribe, a position appointed by the Tribe's Council of Elders, since 2010. She is the first female chief in the tribe's modern history.

She previously worked as a registered nurse and has served in various tribal government roles. The tribe's reservation is on the Thames River in the state of Connecticut.

Relief package for Tribal governments

Yellen was set to make the announcement officially as she visits the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It is the first time a Treasury Secretary has visited a tribal nation.

The trip was expected to focus on how the American Rescue Plan has affected tribal communities. A relief package allots more than $30 billion to Tribal governments, some of which are responsible for overseeing the poorest communities in the US.

Biden previously nominated Deb Haaland as the first Native American to lead the Interior Department.

Haaland is leading an investigation of the US government's role in Native American boarding schools aimed at stripping children of their cultures and identities.

rc/msh (AP, Reuters)