Treasury increasingly including Natives in its equations
New hires happening, but there's a lot of ground to make up for.
WASHINGTON — As the U.S. finds itself in the midst of increasing economic turmoil, the Treasury Department is beefing up its inclusion of Native voices within its various divisions and committees.
Tribes welcome what they say is long overdue commitment to Indigenous citizens within a federal agency that has usually ignored its natural trust responsibilities to tribal nations.
Fatima Abbas (Haliwa Saponi), a senior advisor with Treasury since May 2021, has told tribal leaders that the agency is building “a great tribal team.”
In response to tribal concerns, Abbas recently noted that Treasury has extended the tribal deadline for applying for the $500 million tribal set aside in the pandemic-related Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund from Oct. 31, 2022 to Jan. 31, 2023.
Congressional leaders had earlier in the year attempted to claw back these funds, since Treasury had not yet apportioned them to tribes.
Tribal leaders were on top of the issue, but it’s moves like this that give tribes the impetus to want more tribal experts in place at Treasury to help curb problems from inside the federal system.
Slowly but surely, that’s happening. Earlier this year, Jennifer Parisien, who has previously worked with several tribes on asset management, and Jim Columbe, formerly of the Center for Indian Country Development at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, both joined Treasury as policy advisors.
Since Lynn Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, was sworn in as U.S. Treasurer in September, a handful of new Native appointments have also taken place in Treasury at large.
They include Karen Diver, the Senior Advisor to the President for Native American Affairs at University of Minnesota, who formerly served as Special Assistant to the President on Native American Affairs in the Obama White House.
Diver will sit on Treasury’s newly established climate-related Financial Risk Advisory Committee.
Valerie Red-Horse, CFO of the East Bay Community Foundation, was also recently tapped to serve as an inaugural member of Treasury’s Advisory Committee on Racial Equity.
Additionally, members of the Native American Finance Officers Association and Center for Indian Country Development staffers have been increasingly pulled into the Treasury web in recent months, with some new hires expected to be announced in short order.
All of this inclusion is happening as Malerba is said to be staffing up a new Office of Tribal and Native Affairs, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen created largely in response to backlash surrounding her handling of billions of dollars in pandemic-related distributions to tribes under the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
EARLIER: Why did it take so long for Treasury to establish a tribal office?
Multiple tribes have sued Treasury over what many tribal leaders, researchers and public policy advocates called unfair tribal formula allocations that resulted in already wealthy tribes with small populations and large gaming operations receiving the vast bulk of the funds.
Tribes were largely unsuccessful in their lawsuits focused on CARES Act allocations under the Trump administration, and it appears they will be unsuccessful in their battles over the Biden administration’s ARPA allocations, too.
In late September, a D.C. Circuit panel ruled that it could not ask Treasury to use a different allocation for tribal funds that have already been distributed under ARPA.
According to some tribal advocates, this was not an entirely unexpected result, as the money has already been spent, and there’s really no more to go around.
At the same time, the statute of limitations on Administration Procedure Act claims is six years, so it is still possible tribes could bring more legal challenges.
Diver, for one, is cognizant that more tribal voices inside the system could have been very useful to tribes before the pandemic monies were distributed.
Along those lines, she says that the establishment of the new tribal office at Treasury is crucial.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, but we saw how important it was with ARPA and CARES Act formulas,” Diver told Indigenous Wire. “Consultation plus internal expertise would have made a difference. Long term, building those relationships helps serve tribes better.
“Success [will be] the continuation of the office across administrations, knowledge gained institutionally within the department outside of the Tribal Affairs Office (i.e. institutional competencies), and tribes seeing that input on fiscal policy and regulation is something that they need to have capacity to participate in.”
And she looks forward to getting started serving on the Financial Risk Advisory Committee.
“It will be important to engage with the new tribal office at Treasury so we are sure to make sure any tribal issues/input are reflected in developing recommendations,” Diver said. “At this point, without the benefit of having the first meeting, or engaging with tribes, I'm just hoping that having differing perspectives and representation allows for robust conversations about strategies.”
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