A Native American woman’s signature will be on new US currency

Biden appoints the first female chief of the Mohegan Tribe to serve as US treasurer

Marilynn Malerba, the new US treasurer.
Marilynn Malerba, the new US treasurer.Jessica Hill (AP)

Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba has broken through many glass ceilings throughout her successful professional career. The first female chief of the Mohegan Tribe in modern history will soon be the first Native American to serve as US treasurer. She will run the United States Mint, and every new bill of currency will bear her signature. She will also hold the keys to Fort Knox, the giant vault where the United States keeps most of its gold reserves.

Malerba became the 18th chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010, elected to the lifetime position by the tribe’s Council of Elders. Prior to becoming chief, she served as chairperson of the Tribal Council and worked in the tribal government as its head of health and social services. Before her tribal leadership positions, Malerba had a long career as a nurse. She holds a Doctor of Applied Nursing degree, a Master’s in Public Administration, and was bestowed honorary degrees in arts and science.

Married, mother of two daughters, and grandmother of three girls, Malerba will also be responsible for creating the new Office of Tribal and Native American Affairs in the Department of Treasury. Her appointment by President Biden was greeted by resounding accolades for her leadership, integrity, skills, tact, respect, and professionalism.

The governor of Connecticut, the state where the Mohegan reservation is located, issued a statement extolling “her commitment to public service,” and praising the way she has led her tribe with “dignity and respect.” California Senator Alex Padilla also applauded her “leadership” and her contributions to expanding economic opportunities for tribal communities. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted that she is “thrilled by this historic appointment.”

People who know Malerba talk about her integrity, skills, and unique life experience. “She is a caring, empathetic person who will always be focused on the public good in her new role,” said Connecticut congressman Joe Courtney.

Chief Kirk Francis, Chairman of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) stated on the USET website, “Chief Malerba embodies the highest ideals of leadership. She leads with compassion, tact, love, integrity, professionalism, and respect for all people, while fervently advocating for the advancement of Tribal sovereignty and the delivery of trust obligations.”

A financially successful tribe

Malerba belongs to a Native American tribe that populated the area around the Thames River in what is now the State of Connecticut, where the tribe’s reservation sits today. The tribe has its origins in Delaware and New York, but was divided in the 17th century during the long-running battles with new settlers over land. The tribe split into two–a group that wanted to fight the English and a group that chose to ally with them. Chief Uncas aligned with British forces and prevailed against the Pequot breakaway group. In 1685, his grateful British allies signed the Treaty of Hartford granting independence to the Mohegans. However, the local colonists ignored this agreement and seized the Mohegans’ land in the 18th century. The Mohegan Tribe adapted and assimilated, and nearly lost its identify over the years.

The tribe reorganized in the late 20th century and filed a federal land claim lawsuit seeking to recover the land that the State of Connecticut had illegally sold. As part of the settlement, the Mohegan Nation obtained federal recognition from the US government in 1994.

The creation of a self-governing reservation enabled the tribe to open the Mohegan Sun casino in 1996 and generate income for tribal members from gambling revenue. The financial success of the casino enabled the tribe to buy sports teams and expand their gambling business. It is the first tribe to own a casino in Las Vegas, and a tribal corporation owns a casino hotel in Atlantic City, the gambling capital of eastern United States. In a sign of the times, every Tribal Council member is also on the board of directors of the Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment corporation.

Malerba was a big contributor to the Mohegan Tribe’s financial success during her tenure as chief. “The Mohegan Tribe and its members have benefited greatly from Chief Lynn Malerba’s leadership,” notes Tribal Council Chairman James Gessner Jr.

Raul Grijalva, an Arizona congressman and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, says, “Chief Malerba is no stranger to breaking barriers and making history, and I’m so proud to see her doing it again. For the first time, we will be able to pick up a dollar bill and see the signature of a Native American representing the oldest office of our federal government’s financial institution.”

Malerba’s appointment will allow Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to stamp her signature on new dollar bills for the first time. Since US currency is always signed by two people–the Treasurer of the United States and the Secretary of Treasury–Yellen had to wait for Biden to appoint the US treasurer. Her signature was actually recorded more than a year ago, but no new bills have been issued yet.

The first bill issued by a new Secretary of the Treasury is usually celebrated with a special ceremony. Critics are always ready to comment on the signature itself and even the attire worn at the ceremony. Steven Mnuchin, the previous Treasury Secretary, placed a much-ridiculed non-cursive signature on the currency.

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