national park service director chuck sams
(Photo/Mark Van Scyoc)

Biden Nominee Could Be First Native American to Head National Park Service

Biden just nominated an Oregon resident and tribal citizen, who would be the first Native American Director of the NPS.

On Wednesday, Biden announced the nomination of Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III, an Oregon resident and tribal citizen, to lead the NPS. If confirmed by the Senate, Sams would be the department’s first Native American Director.

Sams is Cayuse and Walla Walla, and has a varied 25-year background that spans education, government, and nonprofit natural resource conservation. He’s worked extensively in tribal, state, and nonprofit realms.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary and his would-be superior, said in a statement,

“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. The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come.”

Sams would be the 19th official head of the NPS, and its first since 2017. Until the Trump presidency, the NPS almost continually had a permanent Director. Then, Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt made the role a revolving door of “acting directors,” none of whom were ever confirmed by the Senate.

Meet Charles F. “Chuck” Sams III

chuck sams III
(Photo/Northwest Power and Conservation Council.)

A Navy veteran, Sams holds a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Concordia University-Portland and a master of legal studies in Indigenous Peoples Law from the University of Oklahoma. He also taught at Georgetown University and Whitman College as an adjunct professor.

Currently, Sams serves on Oregon’s Northwest Power and Conservation Council, in a Governor-appointed position. Previously, he’s performed multiple roles within various land trusts and conservation agencies. He’s also served a tenure as Executive Director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

In a statement, Oregon Governor Kate Brown said Sams is a “passionate student and teacher of the history and culture of our lands and our people.” She went on to praise his “unparalleled devotion and service to his Tribe, our state and our nation.”

NPS Director Position: Challenges

As Director of the NPS, Sams would lead the agency’s 20,000 employees in a mission to manage approximately 52 million acres of protected land, monuments, and historical sites. The job is arguably more complex than ever, as visitors show up at various parks in record numbers and budgets fall short despite federally funded efforts.

Sams lives on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation with his wife, Lori Sams, and their four children.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.