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FARMINGTON — Alaska resident Tara Sweeney has been confirmed to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The confirmation, the first time an Alaska Native was selected, received approval by the U.S. Senate on June 28.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye commended Sweeney's confirmation on Tuesday.

As assistant secretary, Sweeney will oversee several offices and agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, while maintaining the government-to-government relationship between the United States and tribes.

Sweeney is a member of the Native Village of Barrow and the Iñupiat Community of the Arctic Slope.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which voted on June 6 in favor of the nomination.

He said in a statement the Senate's action to confirm Sweeney was "an important step" in assuring Indian Country has a strong leader and advocate at the department.

"Ms. Sweeney will be a powerful voice for Indian nations as she supports Secretary (Ryan) Zinke in upholding tribal sovereignty, promoting Native American self-determination and carrying out the federal government's trust responsibility to Indian tribes and Indians," Hoeven said.

Begaye welcomes appointment

"The sovereignty of tribal nations must be respected by those individuals at the highest level of government," President Begaye said in a release from his office.

"I look forward to working with Tara Sweeney and am confident in her ability to help empower the Navajo Nation, as well as all Native American and Alaskan Native tribes throughout the country," he said.

The release mentioned Begaye continues to oppose the proposal to reorganize the BIA.

The proposal is part of an executive order signed in March 2017 by President Trump for federal agencies to examine ways it could reorganize to improve efficiency, effectiveness and accountability.

Under the proposal, the Navajo Regional Office would be eliminated and the reservation would be reassigned to the Upper Colorado Basin and Lower Colorado Basin regions.

Begaye expressed his opinion about the proposal with federal officials during a consultation session with tribes on June 25 in Albuquerque.

Sweeney comes to the assistant secretary position after working as the executive vice president of external affairs for the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. in Barrow, Alaska.

She was nominated last October by President Trump.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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