The U.S. Treasurer
Malerba’s tribal name Mutáwi Mutáhash means “Many Hearts,” recognizing both her career as a cardiac nurse and how, as chief, she holds the heart of each Mohegan Tribe member.
This August, human rights graduate student Sage Phillips ’22 (CLAS), ’24 MA spoke with Lynn Malerba ’08 MPA. A member of the Penobscot Nation and founder of the Native American and Indigenous Students Association at UConn, Phillips was in Old Town, Maine, on a fellowship with the Wabanaki Alliance. Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe, was in Washington, D.C., 11 months into her appointment as United States Treasurer.
Phillips: It’s an honor to speak with you. You are an inspiration for Indigenous women and girls across the country, so I want to ask — who inspires you?
Malerba: That’s a big question. I would say that all of the generations that came before me inspire me, because they held on no matter what, right? Against all odds, despite very little resources, they were able to pass on our culture, make sure our government stayed intact, and then get us through the federal re-recognition process. My mom was part of those generations. Her grandfather was part of those generations; he was the chief from the 1930s to the 1950s. When I think about my role, I feel I’m keeping faith with them. They inspire me, but my children and my grandchildren inspire me as well, because isn’t that why we do the work that we do? It’s to make sure that our tribal community stays intact and the next generations can live a good life, too, and stay connected to their tribal roots.
Phillips: To have somebody like you entering a space that wasn’t necessarily built for people like us and be that role model for all of us, especially your people back home, is just amazing. How does being a lifetime chief of the Mohegan tribe affect your day-to-day work as the United States Treasurer and vice versa?
Malerba: It’s such a privilege to be in this position. And as I tell Indian Country whenever I’m with them, I said yes for all of us. I didn’t think I’d be working quite this hard at age 70. I was quite happy just living my life, being chief and kind of being queen a little bit. But this was an opportunity to educate an entire agency on what it means to engage deeply with Indian Country, how to consult with tribes, and to consider policy and guidance that would then impact tribes. There has to be a line between anything business related versus culturally related to the tribe, because you can only have one master and that is Treasury. So what I’m doing in the chief space right now is not the advocacy, but all the cultural and traditional and ceremonial things, like weddings and naming ceremonies.
Phillips: I’d love to know why you chose to get an MPA, why you chose UConn, and what it was like being Indigenous at UConn.
Malerba: My first career was nursing, and I always should have had a master’s in the director roles I had at the hospital. I just never got around to it — raising your kids puts a little crimp in your educational plans unless you are really a superwoman. We’ve all been told you can have everything, you can have it all. Well, I think we can have it all — sequentially. I didn’t get my master’s until I was in my 50s, after my kids were in school and they were good, right? I was the health and human services director for the tribe working on policy. I was engaging with Indian health services, starting to do all of that advocacy work at the national level. Getting a master’s in public administration helped me understand that role better and be more effective in that role. But I was a hit-and-run student because I was working. I’ve always been working full time and going to school. That’s been my trajectory all of my life. So in terms of being a part of the Indigenous community at UConn, I didn’t have that opportunity. But I do know that people are engaged with Indigenous studies at UConn now and I’m proud of the work that you and the faculty are doing there, because I think there is a really nice social justice focus to the work that’s happening right now. I intend to stay engaged with UConn around those topics because I think they’re really important.
Phillips: Thank you, that means a lot! If you’re ever around, we would love to welcome you and show you all the things we’ve been working on.
Malerba: I would love to come visit. Maybe this fall!
Editor’s Note: Malerba did, in fact, visit! “A Conversation With U.S. Treasurer and Chief of the Mohegan Tribe Lynn Malerba: A Journey of Leadership and Success” was held Nov. 3, 2023, in the Student Union Theatre. Read about it at UConn Today.
Phillips: You have so much going on. What is your favorite part of the day?
Malerba: My favorite part of the day is helping people understand the work that we’re doing on a personal level. One of the things we’ve worked hard at is engaging with the offices that deal with policy and guidance issues within Treasury and bringing them with us to Indian Country so they can see how their policy impacts the communities we’re serving. The other piece I find really fascinating is that I’m engaged with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Mint. They’re manufacturing facilities, they work 24/7, and it’s amazing. I’m on a counterfeiting deterrence committee that’s just fascinating. If you take a dollar bill and try to print it on a copier, it won’t print because of all the security features. Try it! And we print 8 billion pieces of currency a year. We are visiting the Osage Nation this fall to launch the Maria Tallchief quarter. There are really good things happening at Treasury, and I know that the work we do will last and will inform all the work that happens at Treasury on behalf of our Native Nations.