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Haliwa Saponi tribal citizen Fatima Abbas has been named the first director of the U.S. Treasury’s recently created Office of Tribal and Native Affairs, according to a Treasury announcement last week.

Abbas previously served as the acting director before securing the position permanently. Her appointment marks a growing Tribal presence at the Treasury, which also includes Treasurer Lynn Malerba, chief of the Mohegan Tribe. Abbas will work with Chief Malerba and the Treasury Tribal Advisory Committee to ensure the agency’s policies reflect a “nation-to-nation” relationship with Native American Tribes, per a statement. 

Abbas steps into her new role after serving as senior adviser to the Treasury in the Office of Recovery Programs, where she helped implement $22 billion in relief funds delivered to tribal governments. The Treasury statement attributes the formation of the Office of Tribal and Native Affairs to work done by the Office of Recovery Programs and the tribal team created within that agency. 

Prior to working with the Treasury, Abbas served as the vice president of government relations for the National Congress of American Indians, as well as the first in-house general counsel for the Karuk Tribe along the California-Oregon border. There, she worked on issues including construction, financing, and operation of the tribe’s first gaming facility, the Rain Rock Casino in Yreka, California. Abbas also supervised the Karuk Berkeley Collaborative, a tribal student clinic at the Berkeley School of Law. 

“Tribal nations have long advocated to create the Office of Tribal and Native Affairs – and the Biden Administration is making history by not only meeting these calls, but by appointing strong leadership to its helm,” Chief Malerba said. “...[Abbas’] experience and depth of knowledge make her the perfect choice to stand up the first-ever Office of Tribal and Native Affairs at the Treasury Department.”

Abbas’ appointment continues a string of tribal-focused developments at the Treasury following the appointment of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen by President Joe Biden in 2021. The department has developed “increased engagement” with tribes, the Treasury writes, since pushing for standard consultations and visits to tribal lands in 2022. That includes 28 formal consultations and over 200 information and training sessions in the past two years.

“It is especially important that our Native voices are respected,” Chief Malerba said in a statement regarding her appointment. “These appointments underscore this Administration’s commitment to doing just that. I am excited to serve our communities as Treasurer and for the work ahead.”

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