First Native American Nominated to National Parks Service

Posted by on Nov 11, 2021 in Top Stories, United States

The National Park Service was formed more than a century ago by President Woodrow Wilson. It protected the thirty-five national parks and monuments that existed at that time in 1916. Today, the National Parks Service oversees more than four hundred locations totaling 85 million acres in all fifty states. Now, for the first time, President Biden has nominated Charles “Chuck” F. Sams III, a member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, to lead the Parks Service.

Who is Chuck Sams?

National Park Service logo
The logo of the National Park Service

Sams has decades of experience dealing with land management. He has been a leader in both state and Tribal governments. Most recently, he was the Executive Director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Sams has also worked in non-profit natural resource and conservation management for twenty-five years. He is also the former director of the Tribal and Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land. This organization works with Native American groups to protect lands and places that are culturally significant to Native people, such as burial grounds and fishing and hunting sites. Currently, Sams is a Council Member to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a position he was appointed to by Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

Sams received a bachelor of science degree in Business Administration from Concordia University-Portland, and a masters of legal studies in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He lives with his wife and four children on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which is located in Oregon.

Why Does It Matter?

The Biden administration nominated Sams back in August but the Senate must vote in favor of the nomination. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meets this week to begin the process.

If Sams is ratified by the Senate he will have lots of work to do. The National Park Service hasn’t had a permanent, official director in more than four years. Since the former director retired in 2017, the agency has been led by a series of acting directors. There are many maintenance and infrastructure projects that need attention. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland says that Sams will bring a critical voice of diversity to the position. But the role itself is important because the National Park Service is responsible for preserving public lands and natural treasures for future generations to enjoy.

Dig Deeper Some states are already looking to traditional Native practices to better manage land and wildlife. Use Internet resources to learn more about Native eco-stewardship practices, such as controlled burns that aim to reduce wildfire severity. Write a paragraph about what you discover. (Need help getting started? Visit, click on “Our Programs,” and scroll to “Stewarding Native Lands.”)