Alumna Nominated for Indian Affairs Post

Sweeney ’96 would be first Alaska Native woman to hold position
Tara Sweeney
Monday, May 7, 2018

The nomination of Tara MacLean Sweeney ’96 for assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of Interior is slated for a 2:30 p.m. (EST) Wednesday confirmation hearing that will be livestreamed. If her nomination is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she would be sworn into the position.

The appointment would be historic; Sweeney would be the first Alaska Native woman to hold the position.

If confirmed, she will be responsible for the protection of more than 55 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. Sweeney would shepherd policymaking to represent 567 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes comprised of nearly two million members.

She grew up in rural Alaska and is tribal member of the Native Village of Barrow, and of the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and two children.

Sweeney, nominated for the post by President Donald Trump, is executive vice president of external affairs for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, where she has worked for nearly 20 years.

As executive vice president, she is the spokesperson on corporate media, stakeholder engagement, coalition building, government relations and communications strategy. She has engaged with federal and state legislative branches on improving policies affecting Indian energy, education, taxation, resource development, government contracting, access to capital and broadband development.

After graduating from the ILR School in 1996, she returned to the Arctic to serve her people. She also worked as an aide for Frank Murkowski, then governor of Alaska.

Sweeney is known for her long-term advocacy of Alaskan Native rights and local programs. She has served on numerous Alaskan profit and nonprofit boards; served as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives; and was chair of the Arctic Economic Council from 2015 to 2017. In 2008, she was named “Top 40 Under 40” as a business leader by the Alaska Journal of Commerce, and was inducted into the Athena Society in 2017.

“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. 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,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a 2017 press release.

Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said in a press release, “In these critical times, Ms. Tara Sweeney will serve as a strong Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Her experience with empowering Native Americans is unparalleled and she will help all tribes achieve great self-determination. There is not a Tribe or Alaska Native corporation that she would not help. I have had the opportunity to work alongside Ms. Sweeney for over a decade, I’ve seen her in action and she is driven by results.”

In a press release after her nomination, Sweeney indicated she plans to be a voice for tribes — to improve culturally relevant education and to find efficiencies inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Education.

She said, “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."