Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: Who Is Tara Sweeney?

Thursday, November 09, 2017
Tara Sweeney (photo: Arctic Slope Regional Corp.)

Tara Mac Lean Sweeney, an oil drilling lobbyist who works for a corporation that manages the resources for thousands of native Alaskans, was nominated October 16, 2017, to be assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian affairs. If she’s confirmed, she’ll be the first native Alaskan and second woman in the role. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is responsible for the administration and management of 55.7 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives. The BIA also provides education services to 48,000 Native Americans.


Sweeney is from Utqiagvik, also known as Barrow, Alaska, and lived in several other villages in the state. Her great grandfather was a Presbyterian minister who translated the Bible into the Inupiaq language. Her parents, Bryan and Eileen Mac Lean, were teachers. Eileen, who died in 1996, also served as a state representative. Sweeney graduated from Barrow High School in 1991 and went on to Cornell University, where she earned a B.S. in industrial and labor relations in 1998. Sweeney stayed busy during her college years. She played rugby for Cornell’s club team. In 1993, she was named Miss NCAI by the National Congress of American Indians. She also worked for the North Slope Borough as a housing project administrator and was an intern with the Washington, D.C., law firm of Van Ness Feldman. There, she met then-Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski (R), for whom she would later work.


She was a founder of the Barrow Republican Caucus and a board member of the pro-Arctic oil drilling group Arctic Power. She was also a delegate to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and a charter member of the Alaska Native Leadership Network.


Sweeney has spent most of her career working for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC). ASRC is a private, for-profit corporation that is owned by and represents the business interests of 13,000 Inupiaq shareholders. The corporation owns nearly 5 million acres of land on Alaska’s North Slope which contain a potential for oil, gas, coal and base metal sulfides. In 2015, ASRC reported annual revenues of $2.5 billion. At the time of Sweeney’s nomination to lead the BIA, she served as ASRC’s executive vice president for external affairs, handling corporate communication and government affairs.


In 2001-2002, as government relations manager for ASRC, she supported oil drilling along the Coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but not in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.


In January 2003, Sweeney began serving as Murkowski’s special assistant for rural affairs and education.


In 2010, as ASRC vice-president of external affairs, as part of her pro-oil drilling stance, Sweeney opposed the designation of a large portion of the North Slope as a critical habitat in order to protect polar bears. In 2015, she told Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times that the Arctic “is not a pristine snow globe that deserves to be tucked away and preserved.”


In October 2013, Sweeney was elected to a one-year term as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives. In 2014, she served as co-chair of the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Republican

Dan Sullivan.


She stepped down in 2017 as chairman of the Arctic Economic Council, which works to facilitate economic development in that region of the globe.


Sweeney’s husband, Kevin, served on the staff of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is Frank’s daughter, for 12 years. Kevin Sweeney managed Lisa Murkowski’s successful 2010 write-in campaign for re-election to the Senate. The Sweeneys have two children, Caitlin and Ahmaogak. Ahmaogak starred in a 2012 movie set in Alaska, Big Miracle. The family lives in Anchorage.

-Steve Straehley, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Alaska Native Leader Tara Mac Lean Sweeney Becomes First Female Native Alaskan Nominated for Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs (Department of the Interior)

New Rural Affairs Adviser Hopes to Bridge Divide (by Joel Gay, Anchorage Daily News)


danyelle robinson 6 years ago
Where? Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution. Although I completely agree with your premise. I suspect that you will find more fertile ground for your argument in the fact that SCOTUS still uses precedents from Manifest Destiny to continue the charade. (Supreme court has the power to rectify this, but repeatedly fails to do so, despite contradictions. Instead the neglectful and abusive "father" retains control indefinitely.)
paul r. jones 6 years ago
Where in the United States Constitution is the authority to establish a government department to regulate from the womb to the tomb the health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries of a select group of U.S./State citizens because of their "Indian ancestry/race!" It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for politicians-state and federal-to dumbing down as gullible non-Indian U.S./State citizens into believing that they-politicians-can pass common law that makes the health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because of their "Indian ancestry/race" at the same time the Constitution foreclosed just such common law passed by the very same politicians-state and federal-regulating the health, welfare, safety, benefits, capacities, metes and boundaries for U.S./State citizens with 'slave ancestry/race' all without a shred of Constitutional authority to do so.

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