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Mohegans' Malerba first Native American named treasurer in U.S. history

Mohegan — Marilynn "Lynn" Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, has been named the 45th treasurer of the United States, the first Native American to hold the position, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday. 

Following the announcement, Malerba, who will head the Treasury Department’s newly established Office of Tribal and Native Affairs, accompanied Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on a visit to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. She briefly spoke to The Day before heading home.

“I’m just so honored,” she said Tuesday evening.

“It’s because of the work I’ve done with the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee,” she said of her appointment. “I’ve done a lot of work as a member of the committee, and the Biden-Harris administration is really committed to having diversity on the team.”

Biden's secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland of New Mexico, is the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

“Treasury has been great during COVID, developing a lot of new programming around the recovery,” Malerba said. “They got $20 million out to tribes, distributing money directly to tribes for the first time. They really listened to what tribes needed and what tribes had to say about the best way to get the money to them. And they got it out quickly. They really made a difference in tribal members’ lives.”

Yellen’s visit Tuesday to the Rosebud Indian Reservation marked the first time in history a treasury secretary has visited a tribal nation. During the visit, she highlighted the department’s support for the tribe’s recovery from the pandemic.

Malerba's presidential appointment as treasurer will not require Senate confirmation. She succeeds Jovita Carranza of Illinois, who served under former President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2020.

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

As treasurer, Malerba's signature will appear along with that of the treasury secretary on the nation's currency. She said she may sign as “Chief Lynn Malerba,” noting that she will continue to serve as Mohegan chief, a largely ceremonial position.

In addition to heading the Office of Tribal and Native Affairs, Malerba will oversee the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and Fort Knox, and will serve as a key liaison with the Federal Reserve. She said she is particularly interested in her role as a senior adviser to the treasury secretary in the areas of community development and public engagement.

The Office of Tribal and Native Affairs will report to Malerba and coordinate tribal relations throughout the department. Initially, the office will be staffed by employees currently working with the Office of Recovery Programs’ Tribal Policy and Engagement Team. The department created the team in 2021 as part of its efforts to develop Treasury’s growing relationship with tribal nations.

Malerba, 68, has been Mohegan chief since the tribe’s Council of Elders elected her to the lifetime post in 2010. The tribe’s 18th chief, she is the first woman to hold the position in more than 300 years, having succeeded Ralph Sturges, who died Oct. 1, 2007.

Malerba lives in Niantic with her husband, Paul. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.

“The Mohegan Tribe and its members have benefited tremendously from the leadership of Chief Lynn Malerba, and we are thrilled that she will now bring her expertise, energy, and compassion to the role of treasurer of the United States,” James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan chairman, said in a statement. “This appointment is an honor for her and for our tribe, and it is well-deserved. ... Her appointment is another positive step by the Biden administration to show inclusiveness with Native Americans and ensure we have a seat at the table of federal government."

“We congratulate Lynn on this incredible appointment,” Gessner continued. “The nation will be stronger with her serving in the administration.”

At the time of her election as Mohegan chief, Malerba was serving as the first chairwoman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, the nine-member body that governs the nearly 2,000-member tribe and oversees its gaming enterprises, including Mohegan Sun, the tribe’s flagship casino. She previously had served the tribe as executive director of Health and Human Services.

Malerba joined Mohegan tribal government after a long career as a registered nurse, ultimately serving as director of cardiology and pulmonary services at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London.

A Jonas Scholar, she earned a doctoral degree in nursing practice at Yale University, and has been awarded an honorary doctoral degree in science from Eastern Connecticut State University and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor's degree in nursing from the College of St. Joseph.

Lorna Conahan, a physical therapist who oversees wound care units at L+M and Westerly hospitals, recalled Malerba as “an excellent leader and a kind woman” when their paths crossed at L+M in the late 1980s.

“I never worked for her but she was well known,” said Conahan, a Mystic resident. “I remember when she left for the tribe it was very sad. She was so well respected here.”

Conahan said that when she had to give a presentation to L+M’s board of directors in 2009 or 2010, she was glad to see “a friendly face” in Malerba, who was then a board member.

“She always had a smile on her face,” Conahan said.

Gov. Ned Lamont issued a statement on Malerba’s appointment as treasurer.

“I commend and applaud President Biden’s historic selection of Chief Lynn Malerba to serve as treasurer of the United States,” he said. “Throughout her career, she has demonstrated a commitment to public service, most recently as chief of the Mohegan Tribe, where she led with dignity and respect for all. Her appointment is well deserved, and I celebrate yet another Connecticut resident joining the Biden administration in a high-ranking position.”

Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s former commissioner of education, was sworn in last year as U.S. secretary of education.

“President Biden’s appointment of Chief Lynn Malerba as Treasurer of the United States is an inspired choice of a person with the highest integrity and competence,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a statement. “Chief Malerba brings a unique life experience to this position — a Native American leader of the Mohegan tribe that has contributed to our nation’s tribal people and the state of Connecticut and New England in countless ways."

“Chief Malerba’s training and service as a registered nurse also contribute to her perspective ...,” he said. “She is a caring, empathetic person who will always be focused on the public good in her new role. Eastern Connecticut and the Mohegan Tribal Nation could not be more proud of this well-deserved and historic event.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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