Alaska Native Tara Sweeney inching closer to history at Department of the Interior

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A long wait could be over soon for an Alaska Native to take the nation’s top job in Indian Affairs. Before Tara Sweeney leads the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior, she has to pass through the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) says Tara Sweeney's knowledge of Alaska Natives will carry over for all native peoples.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing Wednesday Sweeney’s nomination to become the assistant secretary. The Inupiat Native from Barrow would be the first Alaska Native to hold the post, and just the second female.

“You can’t underestimate how important it is to the Native people,” said Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Kitka has known Sweeney for 30 years. She says Sweeney’s work as an Alaska Native leader and at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) make her the perfect candidate.

“I think people are going to see it as a breathe of fresh air, some positive energy into that position,” said Kitka.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is also a friend of Sweeney’s. Murkowski says her voice is necessary to carry all Indians forward.

“Being able to lead on Alaska Native issues that she has a broader understanding of all Native peoples,” said Murkowski.

President Trump nominated Sweeney in October. One reason for the delayed process was the possibility of a conflict of interest for Sweeney as a birthright shareholder of her native corporation.

“You promised me that you would, quote, and you said, ‘Totally recuse yourself from any matter involving ASRC,’” said Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) during the hearing.

Udall wants to make sure Sweeney stands by her signed ethics agreement, in which she says she will resign from her position at ASRC after she’s confirmed to the Department of the Interior and not participate in matters relating to the corporation.

“That recusal includes oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Udall.

The Committee has to decide when to vote on Sweeney’s nomination. After that, the full Senate will vote.



 
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