Alaska Native Leader Tara Mac Lean Sweeney Becomes First Female Native Alaskan Nominated for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs

October 20, 2017




WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke applauded President Donald J. Trump’s nomination of Tara Mac Lean Sweeney, a prominent Alaska Native leader and acclaimed businesswoman with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, to be the department’s next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.


If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Sweeney, a member of the Native Village of Barrow and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, would be the first Native Alaskan and only the second woman in history to hold the position.


The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs oversees Interior’s manifold responsibilities to enhance the quality of life, promote economic opportunity and provide quality educational opportunities for American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives, while protecting and improving their trust assets.


“Tara is a results-driven team leader and coalition builder who has an impressive combination of business acumen and service to her community,” Secretary Zinke said. “Her lifelong active engagement in Native American policy development and her outreach, advocacy, and organization skills are the combination we need to carry out the President’s reform initiative for Indian Country. I look forward to welcoming her to our leadership team.”


“I am honored to be nominated to serve Indian Country in this capacity,” Tara Sweeney 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. I am motivated to work with Indian Country to find efficiencies inside the Bureau of Indian Affairs, improve service delivery and culturally relevant curriculum in the Bureau of Indian Education, and create a more effective voice for Tribes throughout the Federal Government. I am humbled by the confidence President Trump and Secretary Zinke have shown in me and ready to serve.”


“Secretary Zinke’s nomination of Tara Sweeny for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs taps a strong advocate for Native American self-determination and tribal self-government for this key leadership position,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs John Tahsuda. “Her extensive organizational knowledge and collaborative management experience will well serve Indian Country by reforming federal policies, empowering tribal communities, and removing barriers to their economic advancement.”


Sweeney grew up in rural Alaska and has spent a lifetime actively engaged in state and national policy arenas focused on advocating for responsible Indian energy policy, rural broadband connectivity, Arctic growth and Native American self-determination. She has served her Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and its subsidiaries in a variety of capacities for nearly two decades.


The $2.6 billion corporation is the largest locally-owned and operated business in Alaska, with about 13,000 Iñupiat Eskimo members and 12,000 employees worldwide. It is diversified in six major business sectors, including energy support services, industrial services, construction, petroleum refining and marketing, government services, and resource development.


In her current role as the Executive Vice President of External Affairs, she is responsible for all facets of government affairs and corporate communications. Her primary responsibilities include strategic policy and position development, implementation and execution; engagement with federal and state executive and legislative branches on improving policies affecting Indian energy, taxation, resource development, government contracting, broadband development and access to capital; as well as all facets of corporate communication as official company spokesperson, including stakeholder engagement and coalition building.


Sweeney also has served in leadership positions on numerous business and nonprofit boards at both the state and national level, including chair of the Arctic Economic Council from 2015 to 2017; co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives (2013); Coast Guard Foundation Board of Trustees; the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees; FCC Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in a Digital Age; Analytical Services, Inc.; Kohanic Broadcast Corporation (parent to the first Native American owned, publicly supported FM radio station); Cherokee Nation New Market Tax Credit Advisory Board (CNB Economic Development Company, LLC, beneficiary); Breast Cancer Focus, Inc.; and Arctic Power.


“This is a historic appointment for Alaskans and for the country,” Senator Dan Sullivan said. “I’ve worked with Tara Sweeney for years and I have witnessed first-hand her integrity, her strong leadership skills and her devotion to public service. Tara has a deep love for our state and people, and is relentless in her commitment to securing a better future for Alaska and the nation. With her long history of advocating for Alaska Native cultural values, rights, and economic opportunity, I can’t think of anyone better to have as our nation’s next Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.”


Among her honors, Sweeney -- a lifetime member of the National Congress of American Indians -- was crowned Miss NCAI in 1993 and traveled the country as an ambassador for the organization.


In 2003, Governor Frank Murkowski recognized Sweeney’s passion for rural Alaska, appointing her to his cabinet as Special Assistant for Rural Affairs and Education. In 2008 she was honored as a “Top Forty Under 40″ business leader by the Alaska Journal of Commerce. In 2014 her team was honored by the Northwest Regional Emmy® Awards, for its IAM IÑUPIAQ commercial campaign 2014, and also served as co-chair for Senator Dan Sullivan’s (R-AK) successful Senate campaign.


In 2017 she was inducted into the Anchorage ATHENA Society, a program of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that encourages the potential of women as valued members and leaders of the business community.


Born to Dr. Bryan Mac Lean and the Late Representative Eileen Panigeo Mac Lean, Sweeney is the granddaughter of the Late May Ahmaogak Panigeo and the Late Henry Panigeo of Barrow. She is the great granddaughter of the Late Bert and Nellie Panigeo and Isabel and Dr. Roy Ahmaogak.


She was raised, attended schools and lived most of her life in rural Alaska in villages from Noorvik to Wainwright, Barrow, Bethel, and Unalakleet. She graduated from Barrow High School in 1991. A 1998 graduate of Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations with a Bachelor of Science Degree, Sweeney currently lives in Anchorage with her husband Kevin, and their two children, Caitlin and Ahmaogak.


Through its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), Interior provides services (directly or through contracts, grants or compacts) to 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. There are 567 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native corporations in the United States. The BIE provides education services to about 42,000 Indian students. The Indian trust, co-managed by BIA and the Office of the Special Trustee, consists of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface mineral estate. More than 11 million acres belong to individual Indians and nearly 44 million acres are held in trust for Indian tribes. On these lands, the Department manages more than 122,817 revenue-producing leases. In conjunction with the Department of the Treasury, Interior, also manages about $4.9 billion in Indian trust funds. In Fiscal Year 2016, $1.2 billion was received into and disbursed from tribal and individual Indian beneficiaries’ accounts.