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Marilynn Malerba could soon be the first Native American to serve as U.S. treasurer

Marilynn Malerba stands next to a photograph of late Chief Ralph Sturges at tribal offices in Uncasville, Conn., on March 4, 2010. On Wednesday, President Biden announced his intent to appoint her U.S. treasurer in a historic first.
Jessica Hill
/
AP
Marilynn Malerba stands next to a photograph of late Chief Ralph Sturges at tribal offices in Uncasville, Conn., on March 4, 2010. On Wednesday, President Biden announced his intent to appoint her U.S. treasurer in a historic first.

President Biden plans to appoint tribal leader Marilynn Malerba as U.S. treasurer, making her the first Native American to hold that position — and the first Native woman to have her signature appear on American currency.

Malerba is the 18th chief of the Mohegan Tribe, and its first female chief in modern history. Before becoming chief — a lifetime appointment made by the Tribe's Council of Elders — in 2010, she was the chair of the tribal council and served in tribal government as the executive director of health and human services. She is also a former member of the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee.

As treasurer, she will oversee the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the storage of gold at Fort Knox, as well as serve as a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on issues regarding community development and public engagement.

She will also lead the Treasury's newly established Office of Tribal and Native Affairs, which will coordinate tribal relations across the department and house staff dedicated to communication with tribal nations.

"I am honored and humbled by Secretary Yellen and the Biden Administration's commitment to ensuring that all voices are heard by Treasury as we work together to create an equitable and just society," Malerba said in a statement. "It is especially important that our Native voices are respected."

Biden announced his intent to nominate Malerba on Tuesday, the same day that Yellen visited the Rosebud Indian Reservation in what the Treasury described as the first trip by a treasury secretary to a tribal nation.

Yellen spoke with residents and tribal leaders about how the Biden administration is working to support the tribal nation's pandemic recovery and expand economic opportunity, and also praised Malerba's forthcoming appointment as a step in that direction.

"This is an historic appointment," Yellen said in a statement. "Her leadership and experience will deepen our commitment to help expand economic opportunities for all Tribal communities."

Malerba has a track record of leadership in health care and tribal governance

Malerba began her career in health care, working as a registered nurse and ultimately the director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Connecticut's Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, according to her Mohegan Tribe biography.

Malerba's family has deep ties to public service: She is the great-granddaughter of Chief Matagha, known as Burrill Fielding, and her mother, Loretta Roberge, served on the tribal council for three decades and held the position of Tribal Nonner (elder female of respect).

Malerba told NPR's Talk of the Nation in 2010 that while she was becoming the first female chief of the Mohegan Tribe in roughly 300 years, she was following in the footsteps of many informal and formal women tribal leaders — and hoped to inspire future ones.

"I think it shows to all of the young women in the tribe that there is absolutely no glass ceiling within the tribal structure and in tribal government, and I think that that's a very important message to share with them," she said of her appointment to the position.

You'll soon start seeing new signatures on your banknotes

Malerba's intended appointment as treasurer, which no longer needs to be confirmed by the Senate, brings both her and Yellen one step closer to getting their names on the U.S. dollar.

Yellen provided her official signature for that purpose in March 2021, but it has yet to appear on cash because bureaucratic rules require the signatures of the treasury secretary and treasurer to be added to a new series of currency at the same time.

The role of treasurer has been vacant since Jovita Carranza left in January 2020 to become Small Business Administrator in the Trump administration. That's why the signature of former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin still appears on $1 bills.

It may still take a bit more time for the new names to replace his: A Treasury representative told The New York Times that it can take up to four to five months to update printing plates for each denomination.

But when that does happen, the Biden administration says it will be cause for celebration.

"For the first time in history, the signatures of two women will appear on our currency," tweeted White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

Elevating Native Americans to leadership positions

Malerba's supporters are cheering Biden's announcement and noting the importance of having Native Americans in government leadership positions.

Fawn Sharp, the president of the National Congress of American Indians, commended Biden's choice and said that the importance of Native American leadership, partnership and representation within the Treasury "cannot be overstated."

"There is much work to be done to enhance economic development opportunities, achieve governmental tax parity for Tribal Nations, and address Indian Country's capital needs," Sharp added. "The creation of this office and Chief Malerba's pending appointment are truly historic and positive steps toward these goals."

Biden notably nominated Rep. Deb Haaland to lead the Department of the Interior, making her the country's first Native American Cabinet secretary.

"By elevating Native American leaders to the highest levels of our federal government, they are taking the right steps to put our history of ignoring, silencing, and denying the rights of Indigenous Peoples to rest," Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. "Representation matters, but representation in leadership matters even more."

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