Bipartisan senators call for establishing tribal office in US Treasury Department

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A bipartisan group of U.S. senators are urging the U.S. Department of the Treasury to establish an Office of Tribal Affairs in order to improve the department's work with tribal nations.

Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., sent a letter on Sept. 29 to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to advocate for establishment of the office.

The senators are calling for the office in light of recent consultations and interactions between the department and tribes to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the last year, the department has been responsible in disbursing millions in federal coronavirus relief funds to tribes.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, right, and Vice President Myron Lizer support the effort to establish a tribal affairs office within the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

This recent process and interaction have shown the need for sufficient, dedicated, in-house expertise within the department on tribal policy matters, the senators stated in the three-page letter.

The office would improve the department's consultation process with tribes, strengthen the government-to-government relationship, and provide more expertise on matters affecting Indian Country.

"The recent work of treasury during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the department requires a more formalized body to interact with tribal nations," the senators wrote.

Although the department does not have an office solely dedicated to tribal matters, it does conduct activity with tribes through consultations and by the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee, according the department's website.

Janet Yellin

The senators requested that Yellen respond to their letter by Oct. 13.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer supported the office's establishment in a news release this week.

Nez said the creation of an office is "long overdue."

"Tribal nations are in great need of a treasury departmental office committed to resolving financial and tax issues impacting tribal nations, especially in the wake of the ongoing pandemic," Nez said in the release.

The release noted that most federal agencies have a tribal affairs office or a designated official who engages with tribal nations.

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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