SALEM, Ore: The US Senate has unanimously approved the nomination of Charles Chuck Sams III as National Park Service director, making him the first Native American to head the agency.
Some conservationists hailed Sams’ confirmation Thursday night as a commitment to an equal partnership with the tribes, the land’s original stewards.
I am deeply honored, Sams told the Confederated Umatilla Journal on Friday. I also greatly appreciate the support, guidance and advice of my tribal elders and friends throughout my professional career.
The National Park Service oversees more than 131,000 square miles (339,000 square kilometers) of parks, monuments, battlefields, and other sites. According to its website, it employs about 20,000 people in permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs.
Sams is the agency’s first Senate-confirmed park director in nearly five years. It was led by acting chiefs for years under the Trump administration and for the first 10 months of Biden’s presidency. Jonathan Jarvis, who was confirmed as Park Service director in 2009, left the agency in January 2017.
According to Indian Country Today, during the confirmation hearing, Sam noted his experience with nonprofit work that included facilitating land transfers and working with volunteers on conservation and management of invasive species.
He also said he would work to more broadly reflect the indigenous history of the National Park Service land, in addition to incorporating indigenous ideas and knowledge into decision-making. He added that it is important to work with Native Americans on traditional ecological knowledge “based on more than 10,000 years of managing those places to ensure that they will be here for generations to come to enjoy.”
The Native American cabinet secretary, US Interior Secretary Deb Holland, said in August, when President Joe Biden nominated Sams, that he brings diverse experiences. The National Park Service is part of the Department of the Interior.
The Sams are the Cayuse and Walla Walla of the federated tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon. There, he gained a reputation for being ineffective. He has worked in the state and tribal governments and non-profit natural resource and conservation management sectors for more than 25 years.
He is known for being steady at the helm and taking on challenges, said Bobby Conner, director of the Tamastslicht Cultural Institute on the 270-square-mile (700-square-kilometer) reservation.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who asked the Senate to pass the nomination unanimously, described Sams as a role model in the leadership of American land and water, wildlife and history.
Sams’ confirmation means Congress and parkgoers will have a stable, experienced leader to rely on for years to come, the Democrats said.
Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Maryland-based Chesapeake Conservancy, celebrated the news. His organization works to conserve natural and cultural resources in North America’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, where the National Park Service manages some of the sites.
It has been a historic year for the US Department of the Interior, with the confirmation of Secretary Deb Haaland as the first Native American cabinet secretary of the United States, and now the recognition of Chuck Sams as the first Native American to serve as director. has been confirmed. National Park Service,” Dunn said. Haaland on Friday formally declared squaw a derogatory term and said she was taking steps to remove it from the federal government’s use and replace other derogatory place names.
Dunn pointed to the forced migration of indigenous peoples that led to the creation of America’s public lands, including national parks.
As our country works to address those past tragedies, it is fitting that the leadership of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior reflect on a new direction and commitment to equal partnership with the indigenous peoples of the United States, Dunn said. said.
Sams is a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, appointed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. Prior to this, he held several positions with the Federal Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation including Executive and Deputy Executive Director. He has also led the Indian Country Protection among other organizations.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Concordia University-Portland and a master’s degree in legal studies in Indigenous People’s Law from the University of Oklahoma. Sams is a veteran of the US Navy.
He has also been an assistant professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College.
Sams lives on the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation with his wife, Lori Sams, and their four children.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.
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