Senate confirms first-ever Native American NPS head
The U.S. Senate confirmed Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III as director of the National Park Service on Thursday, Nov. 18, making him the first Native American to lead the agency.
Sams was confirmed by voice vote, the first time since 2009 that the Senate has confirmed an NPS director. Four different acting directors held the position under the Trump administration, and Jonathan Jarvis, who was confirmed in 2009 to lead the agency under the Obama administration, left in January 2017.
The White House announced its intent to nominate Sams on Aug. 18. Prior to the nomination, Sams was serving as a Council Member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, appointed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown. He has worked in state and tribal governments, and the nonprofit natural resource and conservation management fields, for more than 25 years.
Sams has held a variety of roles with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, most recently as their executive director. He has also had roles as the president/CEO of the Indian Country Conservancy, executive director for the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, national director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program for the Trust for Public Land, executive director for the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, executive director for the Community Energy Project, and president/CEO for the Earth Conservation Corps.
“The diverse experience that Chuck brings to the National Park Service will be an incredible asset as we work to conserve and protect our national parks to make them more accessible for everyone,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, herself the first Native person to receive Senate confirmation to a cabinet position. “I look forward to working with him to welcome Americans from every corner of our country into our national park system. The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come.”
Sams holds a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Concordia University-Portland and a master’s in legal studies in indigenous peoples law from the University of Oklahoma. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and an enrolled member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. He and his wife have four children.