Lynn Malerba ’08 MPA encourages people to not hold on to the plans they might have made for their life. The Treasurer of the United States and chief of the Mohegan Tribe spoke to a UConn audience on Friday afternoon at the Student Union Theater as part of the Native American Cultural Programs series.
Malerba, who grew up as one of seven children, was in the middle of an established nursing career at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London before she decided to start her next educational experience by getting her master’s at UConn.
“My parents always told me that I can do anything,” said Malerba. “They believed in me and were my first cheerleaders. You need people in life willing to share your vision and stand with you.”
It was at this point that another unexpected opportunity came her way. She was beckoned to come and work for the Mohegan Tribe as health and human services director.
“There is this Yiddish saying – ‘Man plans, God laughs,’” said Malebra. “We may have these plans, but I am here to tell you, don’t hold on to them.”
Malerba developed many programs in that position that tribal citizens still enjoy to this day. She then was encouraged to run for the tribal council and was elected. She eventually became the vice chairman and the chairman of the council.
“I was very shy growing up, but being a nurse wipes that out,” said Malebra. “I learned very quickly to be assertive and raise my voice when it needed to be to take care of patients.”
She was then approached by tribal elders to serve as chief, which she accepted. She is just the second woman to hold that role and the first in over a century.
“I wanted to rise my voice in a way that helps all tribes and what I learned was that I didn’t know much about other tribes in the United States because we are not taught about them,” said Malebra. “We have to learn and embrace what makes each tribe unique. I got very involved on the federal level on policies that affect all tribes, some of which do not have the same opportunities that Mohegan has.”
It was this experience with the federal government that helped lead her to her current role – the Treasurer of the United States.
“I got a call from the domestic policy liaison of tribal nations at the White House, who I talked to regularly,” said Malerba. “She told me that they wanted to move my name to be Treasurer of the United States – and you could have knocked me out of my chair because that’s not a typical role for an Indigenous person to hold.”
Malerba had just told her family it was time for her to spend more time with them and be available to them.
“Every time something is presented to me, it seems to be something I am not sure I should be doing,” said Malerba. “But, I said yes for all of Indian country. The Treasury now provides funds to tribes directly and that is something that had not normally been done. Yet, they have a lot of control over all of our lives if you think of tax policy and the IRS.”
Malebra said being the Treasurer is an amazing adventure in the dual role it has in terms of setting fiscal policy and overseeing the printing and engraving of currency.
“Even if you feel you are not worthy or haven’t paid your dues, you have to step up and take advantage of opportunities,” said Malebra. “It exciting to take an opportunity and craft positions that make the most sense to you and hopefully make an impact.”
Malerba appreciated her UConn education and how the school is dedicated to hearing the voice of Indigenous people.
“The work here at UConn will have a lasting impact as we need to understand how to respect our history as a shared nation,” said Malebra. “Tribes have a fraught history with the United States and we should recognize that, but at the end of the day, we all love this country. We should all love and embrace one another because we are all in it together and live side-by-side with our native and non-native family members, friends, and neighbors.”
Read more about Malebra in the Fall 2023 issue of the UConn Magazine.