The U.S. Senate’s recent confirmation of Tara Sweeney as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior is a positive move, and Cherokee Nation looks forward to working with her on issues important to Indian Country.
She is the first Alaska Native to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and the first woman in the post since Ada Deer served in that capacity for President Bill Clinton.
Throughout her many years of work on behalf of the Native people in her home state of Alaska, Sweeney is a strong voice on a multitude of issues, from tribal self-determination to the promotion of economic development opportunities. She has also championed increased access to capital for underserved Native American populations.
That depth of knowledge and passion will be a benefit for all Native people in the United States, especially since the role of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs plays a critical role in the government-to-government relationship the federal government has with tribal nations.
Closer to home, Sweeney provided her expertise to Cherokee Nation Businesses by serving on its Economic Development New Market Tax Credit Advisory Board. She is aware of our efforts and successes in economic development that is reshaping northeast Oklahoma, where we employ over 11,000 people and have a $2.03 billion impact on the state.
We utilize the dollars generated by our business success and federal funding to make a positive impact on more than 360,000 Cherokees we serve through the development of affordable housing, health care facilities, education and job creation.
For us at the Cherokee Nation, it is important to have a knowledgeable and skilled person in this role, especially as we continue to advocate for issues affecting our service programs, land and other resources.
Other priorities Cherokee Nation is pursuing on Capitol Hill include funding for staffing and operations for our expansion at W.W. Hastings Hospital, a joint venture project with the Bureau of Indian Education at Sequoyah High School, amendments to the federal “47 Act,” or Stigler Act, to protect certain land ownership rights for citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes in Oklahoma, and continued funding for federal programs important to tribal governments.
These priorities would not be possible without a solid working relationship and partnership with the federal government and the Department of the Interior.
Bill John Baker is the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.