Alaskan selected for Indian Affairs post at Interior

Tara Sweeney has been nominated for assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs. Photo: ASRC

President Trump has nominated an Arctic Slope Regional Corporation senior executive to be the assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs.

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Tara MacLean Sweeney, if confirmed, would be the first Alaskan to serve in the position, which oversees the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Indian Education.

Her nomination has Alaska’s U.S. senators literally cheering.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski: “What a fabulous, fabulous nomination.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan: “Historic. Super-well qualified.”

Sweeney is a graduate of Barrow High School and Cornell University. She’s now Vice President of External Affairs for ASRC and a past co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Until this spring, Sweeney also chaired the Arctic Economic Council. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says Sweeney led international efforts on broadband and shipping.

“She is at a level as an Alaskan that is just enviable,” Murkowski said. “And I think, again, we could not have identified an individual who has a broader perspective including that of coming from the ANC (Alaska Native corporation) side.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan sees the nomination as part of a trend that will put Alaskans at the helm of critical agencies for the state. Sullivan points to Joe Balash, nominated to be an assistant Interior secretary with sway over public lands, oil and mining. Also, Chris Oliver, head of NOAA Fisheries. And now Sweeney.

“A big part of our job (as senators) is educating our colleagues and some of the federal agencies on unique aspects of Alaska,” Sullivan said. “Now we have Alaskans running these agencies for the country. And Tara Sweeney is going to be phenomenal.”

David Solomon, a Gwich’in activist from Fort Yukon, is happy, too.

“Oh it’s awesome,” Solomon said, outside the U.S. Capitol. “It’s good to see our Native leader be in the front line now. We’ve been recognized.”

Solomon was in Washington, D.C. to rally opposition in the Senate to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ASRC owns subsurface rights in the refuge and Sweeney has been a lead advocate in favor of drilling there. But Solomon takes a broader view and says Sweeney’s selection is good for Alaska Natives.

The position requires Senate confirmation.





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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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