Sen. Chuck Schumer trashes BIA Chief Tara Sweeney, but picks the wrong target


Sen. Chuck Schumer took to Twitter today to disparage Alaskan Tara Sweeney, who is the Assistant Secretary for the Interior, and is the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Schumer was mad because Alaska Native Corporations are deemed eligible for tribal assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

His slam against Sweeney didn’t go well for Schumer, the New York politician who has served in office since 1998. Not only did Sweeney shoot right back at him, so did Congressman Don Young, and Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Even Gov. Mike Dunleavy got involved in the fray on Twitter.

Alaska’s congressional delegation quickly wrote a letter scolding Schumer for his off-base criticism of Sweeney:

“Tara Sweeney is doing an outstanding job as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Barely two weeks ago, Congress unanimously agreed that ANCs should be eligible for funding under the CARES Act and we expect Treasury to uphold and follow the law,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’m extremely disappointed by the personal attacks and baseless allegations against Assistant Secretary Sweeney, including those from Senator Chuck Schumer earlier today. Those attacks betray a complete lack of awareness of Interior’s role in supporting Treasury when it comes to implementing this program. They also betray an utter lack of understanding of what Native Corporations are, why Congress created them, and the purpose they serve in Alaska. Trying to hold any person’s tribal affiliation or similar congressionally established status against them for political purposes is simply gross and a new low. Assistant Secretary Sweeney’s ANCSA affiliation is her birthright. It’s part of her identity as an Alaska Native, similar to tribal enrollment, and should not be used against her based on crass partisan motives.”

“As our small businesses suffer and as the Payment Protection Program has run out of money, it’s extremely disappointing that Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others are spending their time attacking Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney. Secretary Sweeney is a woman of impeccable integrity who is working day in and day out for America’s First Peoples,” said Senator Sullivan. 

“Senator Schumer—as well as every senator and an overwhelming majority of congressmen who voted for the CARES Act—signed off on the standard, 40 plus-year-old definition of Indian tribes, which includes Alaska Native village and regional corporations. This is not controversial, particularly for anyone who knows anything about these issues. What is controversial, and frankly shameful, is to try to smear a dedicated public servant who is doing her duty by implementing the law and the definition of Indian tribes that Congress mandated.

“What is also shameful is having members of Congress trying to deprive Alaska Native communities much-needed funds to fight the pandemic. I’ll continue to fight these misguided efforts to besmirch Assistant Secretary Sweeney and harm our Alaska Native communities,” Sullivan said.

“The legislative text of the CARES Act was available out in the open throughout the drafting process before it went on to pass 96-0 in the Senate, and by voice vote in the House,” said Congressman Young. “The time to express concerns over the bill was then, not weeks after its passage and enactment. Let me make this very clear: Alaska Native Corporations not only fit the bill’s definition for funding eligibility, but for decades have been empowering Alaska Natives by providing economic opportunity, education, and vital services to Native communities across our State. The CARES Act did not prescribe apportionment of the funding, and I am confident that our federal agencies will determine a fair and equitable distribution of these critical funds that takes into account the fact that Alaska has both tribes and ANCs.” 

 “Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney has spent her career advocating for all Indigenous peoples, and continues to do so. The very suggestion that she used her influence to secure the inclusion of ANCs in the tribal set aside is outrageous and, very frankly, a fundamental misunderstanding of the legislative process,” Young said.

Congress drafted and passed the bill; as Assistant Secretary, Tara Sweeney and other federal officials implement the law as written, using the eligibility definitions that already exist on the books, he continued.

“Sweeney is a champion for the economic and social well-being of our First Peoples, and has achieved great things as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. As the first Alaska Native to ever hold this position, she is a trailblazer and a role model for future generations of Indigenous leaders. I am proud to serve with her and honored to call her a friend,” Young said.

Earlier this week, the delegation sent a letter to the administration calling on the Treasury Department to take into consideration the unique legal framework and circumstances in Alaska. The delegation urged flexibility for each tribe to choose how it receives and administers the payments. Their letter also provides historical background on Alaska regional corporations, which are made eligible for CARES Act assistance through the definition of “Indian tribe” used in the bill. 

Click here for the letter.


  1. Did Shumer just jump on the bandwagon of the concerns from the SD Sioux (another group that didn’t do their homework) without realizing what he was even complaining about? Typical. As long as it is something negative towards this administration, that is all that matters. So happy our delegation eviscerated him with their words.

  2. Such vindictive ignorance! Another clueless idiot shooting off at the mouth. Bravo Alaska Delegation for defending Sweeney’s good work.

  3. “Even for you..” Ha! love that! Very well done! Nice shot Tara! Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy…

  4. He needs to be hauled out with the trash for the next pick up of the dumpster. Time to put him out to dry and retire! Schumer needs to be gone from public service.

    • Erik, you’re joining Chuck in being dumb! While tribes in the Lower 48 do have casinos, in Alaska there is not any “Indian Country”. So without land to govern, Alaska tribes cannot build casinos.
      I would bet that all casinos in the Lower 48, regardless of ownership, are hurting financially with most states being shut down.

  5. I think there is a legitimate question of whether Alaska Native Regional corporations should receive these federal emergency funds. Indian tribes in Northern Arizona and others in the SW and in the Midwest have very little income and medical facilities. Compare them to regional corporations like Arctic North Slope or Cook Inlet Regional for example.
    The Alaska Native claims settlement Act explicitly extinguished aboriginal claims in exchange for money and huge land areas in Alaska. Except in two small isolated areas, Alaska does not have “Indian Country or recognized tribal governments. Some of these for profit Alaska Regional native corporations pay large dividends to their members. While many native Americans in the lower 48 have little to no income and really need federal help. So what is a fair distribution of these funds?

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