Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > Indian Country Organizations Letter
Posted: May 22, 2020
Tara Sweeney

Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, at table, is seen at the Department of the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

On May 20, 2020, five Indian Country organizations called for the resignation of Tara Sweeney as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

The request was contained in a letter signed by leaders of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes, the United South and Eastern Tribes, the Association on American Indian Affairs and the National Congress of American Indians. It is addressed to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

“It is with much thought and deliberation that the undersigned Tribal organizations write to request the immediate removal of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs (AS-IA) Tara Mac Lean Sweeney from her post,” the three-page letter reads. “Our solemn conclusion that this must occur is based on the consistent and repeated failures of Assistant Secretary Sweeney to honor and uphold the federal government’s trust obligation to Tribal Nations.”

The Indian Country organizations cite a series of actions in which they say Sweeney undermined the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations. They include:

  • Denying the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe the ability to restore its homelands in Massachusetts
  • Failing to protect Tohono O’odham Nation sites from desecration near the U.S. border with Mexico
  • Allowing Alaska Native for-profit corporations to seek shares of an $8 billion coronavirus relief fund promised to tribal governments
  • Restricting the ability of tribes in Alaska to restore their homelands through the fee-to-trust process
  • Failing to address the breach of sensitive tribal data that was submitted for the $8 billion coronavirus relief fund
  • Moving to disestablish the reservation that was placed in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts

“Despite repeated promises made to ‘learn…from Indian Country through consultation,’ and ‘aggressively advocate’ for Tribal self-determination and sovereignty, she has neglected to properly engage with Indian Country throughout her tenure, refusing meaningful public interaction with Tribal Nations and advisory committees, and lacking availability for substantive policy discussions,” the letter states. “From our perspective, her voice has been largely absent or silent in the policy-making process, and she has failed to be a strong advocate for our interests across the federal government.”

“Our organizations regret that circumstances require our insistence on AS-IA Sweeney’s removal from office, as many of us supported her nomination and had high expectations for her service,” the leaders continue. “But we owe it to our member Tribal Nations, our children, and our ancestors to ensure that all AS- IAs uphold and faithfully execute the duties of office in a way that advances the authorities, capabilities, and interests of Tribal Nations.”

“AS-IA Sweeney’s behavior is not representative of these objectives, making her unfit for this sacred charge,” the letter states. “We urge her swift removal, as well as an immediate investigation into whether ethical or legal violations were committed in the course of deeming ANCs eligible for government relief funds and the subsequent breach of Tribal data.”

The letter was signed by Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association; Aaron Payment, Acting President of the Midwest Alliance of Sovereign Tribes; Kirk Francis, President of the USET Sovereignty Protection Fund; Frank Ettawageshik, President of the Association on American Indian Affairs; and Fawn R. Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians.


Join the Conversation