Native American Confirmed Head of National Park Service | Oregon News

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By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – The US Senate has unanimously approved the appointment of Charles “Chuck” Sams III as director of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to head the agency.

Some environmentalists hailed Sams’ confirmation Thursday night as a pledge to a fair partnership with the tribes, the original stewards of the land.

“I am deeply honored,” Sams told the Confederated Umatilla Journal on Friday. “I am also very grateful for the support, guidance and guidance of my elders and tribal 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 landmarks. It employs around 20,000 people in permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs, according to its website.

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Sams is the agency’s first park director confirmed by the Senate in nearly five years. It was ruled by interim chiefs for years under the Trump administration and for the first 10 months of Biden’s presidency. Jonathan Jarvis, who was confirmed as director of the parks department in 2009, left the agency in January 2017.

During the confirmation hearings, Sam noted his experience with nonprofit work that included facilitating land transfers and working with volunteers on invasive species conservation and management, according to Indian Country Today.

He also said he would work to ensure that the indigenous history of National Park Service lands is widely reflected, in addition to incorporating indigenous views and knowledge into decision-making. He said it was important to work with Native Americans on traditional ecological knowledge “based on over 10,000 years of managing these spaces to ensure they will be there for future generations to enjoy.”

U.S. Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet Secretary, said in August, when President Joe Biden appointed Sams, that he brought a diverse background. The National Park Service is part of the Home Office.

Sams is Cayuse and Walla Walla and lives in the Confederate tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon. There he gained a reputation for being unfazed. He has worked in state and tribal governments and in the fields of natural resource management and non-profit conservation for over 25 years.

“He’s known to be stable at the helm and tackle challenges in stride,” said Bobbie Conner, director of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute on the 270 square mile (700 square kilometer) reserve.

Kat Brigham, chairman of the Confederate Tribes board of directors, recalled Sams fishing salmon in the Columbia River as a youngster, standing on scaffolding and using a net, according to tradition.

“I’m very proud, and I think it’s very exciting that we have a tribal member who is the first in history to be in charge of our National Park Service,” Brigham said. “He knows how important our land is. He knows we need to protect our land, not just for today, but for our children’s children.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who had asked the Senate to pass the nomination by unanimous consent, described Sams as a “role model in the management of American lands and waters, wildlife and history.”

Sams’ confirmation means Congress and visitors to the park will have a stable and experienced leader to lean on for years to come, the Democrat said.

Joel Dunn, president and CEO of the Maryland-based Chesapeake Conservancy, celebrated the news. His organization works to conserve the natural and cultural resources of North America’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, where the National Park Service manages some sites.

“It was a historic year for the US Department of the Interior, with Secretary Deb Haaland’s confirmation as the first Native American Cabinet Secretary of the United States, and now the confirmation of Chuck Sams as the first Native American to occupy the post of director. of the National Park Service, “Dunn said. Haaland officially declared on Friday that” squaw “was a derogatory term and said she was taking steps to remove it from use by the federal government and to replace other pejorative place names.

Dunn pointed to the forced migration of Indigenous peoples that led to the creation of US public lands, including national parks.

“As our country strives to deal with these past tragedies, it is fitting that the leadership of the National Park Service and the Home Office reflects a new direction and a commitment to a just partnership with the people. Native Americans, ”Dunn said. .

Sams is a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, appointed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. Previously, he held several positions within the Confederate Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, including that of Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. He has also headed the Indian Country Conservancy, among other organizations.

He received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Concordia-Portland University and a Masters of Legal Studies in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. Sams is a United States Navy veteran.

He was also an assistant professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College.

Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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