The University of Connecticut’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion welcomed U.S. Treasurer, Mohegan Tribe Chief and UConn alum Lynn Malerba to share her experiences and offer words of inspiration to students last Friday, Nov. 3.
The talk attracted a diverse audience to the Student Union theater, including ranking members of the Eastern Pequot and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations and numerous indigenous peoples advocates.
Chris Newell of the University of Connecticut’s Advancement for Native Students opened the event, requesting the audience to stand as he performed a song honoring the present Chief. Newell’s introductions were followed by a greeting from UConn President Radenka Maric, who emphasized the talk as a landmark event in the university’s mission of “using diversity as our strength.”
Sharing a momentary embrace with the president, Malerba took center stage and commenced her speech.
Despite Malerba’s extensive career that spans multiple degrees and positions of leadership, she presented a simple message regarding the importance of community.
“No one accomplishes anything on their own,” said Malerba, adding that in life, you must have people to “share in your mission.”
Malerba’s words are directly informed by her personal experiences, having grown up in a large family deeply involved in the Mohegan community. Malerba credits her value of compassion to this upbringing, which has driven her to pursue a career in nursing with the express goal of making a difference in people’s lives.
Alongside working in the healthcare field, Malerba felt a need to become involved in her tribal community, which led to her election as the vice-chair and later the chair of the Mohegan council.
The nurse’s cap which Malerba once wore in the various hospitals of her early profession now sits in the Mohegan tribe’s Tantaquidgeon Museum, a symbolic representation of her journey. Once having held the hearts of her patients, Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash, or “Many Hearts,” has held the hearts of the entire Mohegan tribe since her appointment in 2010.
Malerba is the first female Mohegan Chief of the modern era, a factor which encouraged her to accept the initially intimidating position with the goal of inspiring others.
“Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you,” Malerba urged.
She asserted that the best way to make an impact is by utilizing one’s natural strengths and personal identity.
Acting as a role model has consistently motivated Malerba’s ambitions, playing a crucial component in her decision to accept the U.S. Treasurer nomination in 2022.
“I said yes for all of Indian country,” Malerba noted.
Additionally, she said that she strives to always integrate her identity as an indigenous person into her role as Treasurer.
The mission of native advocacy has produced tangible progress under Malerba’s guidance by the creation of a standing tribal office in the treasury and the emergence of more holistic funding practices.
“It’s one thing to write policy, it’s one thing to write regulations, but if you don’t know the communities you’re serving, how can they be specific?” Malerba questioned. “Now we are making a difference in how we engage with tribes in a very different way.”
In visits around the country, Malerba has specifically assessed the ways in which federal policy can be best tailored to individual communities, allowing tribal governments to have greater autonomy over the budgeting of funds.
Addressing the history and modern reality of oppression towards native populations is a seminal step in the creation of a fair and equal society, and a task Malerba has not shied away from.
“The devastation that happened, and is still happening to our tribes,” Malerba said, is “not about making people feel guilty, but it’s about acknowledging our history, and doing better.”
To conclude her talk, she placed emphasis on the importance of the unity of all persons regardless of origin.
“We all love this country, we should love one another,” Malerba said.