Charles "Chuck" F. Sams III becomes first Native American to head national parks

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Charles F. Sams III, nominee to be Director of the National Park Service, listens during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington DC on October 19, 2021. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected t

Charles "Chuck" F. Sams III is the first Native American to serve as the director of the National Park Service in the agency’s 105-year history after getting confirmed by the Senate. 

In August, President Joe Biden nominated the Oregon resident and tribal citizen. He is Cayuse and Walla Walla and a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Sams has worked in state and tribal governments and the nonprofit natural resource and conservation management fields for over 25 years, White House officials said.

"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," U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, said in a news release. "The outdoors are for everyone, and we have an obligation to protect them for generations to come."

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The National Park Service oversees more than 131,000 square miles of parks, monuments, battlefields and other landmarks. It employs approximately 20,000 people in permanent, temporary and seasonal jobs, according to its website.

Sams had been a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, a role appointed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Brown in a previous statement said it was a proud day for Oregon. She described Sams as a "passionate student and teacher of the history and culture of our lands and our people."

"I have worked closely with Chuck for many years, and have witnessed firsthand his unparalleled devotion and service to his Tribe, our state and our nation," the governor said.

Previously, Sams held several positions with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, including executive and deputy executive director. He has also led the Indian Country Conservancy, among other organizations, officials said in the news release.

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He earned 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. Sams is a U.S. Navy veteran.

He has also been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College.

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

During Sams’ time as director, Biden has plans to protect and enhance parks and monuments.

Biden will restore two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a long-running public lands dispute, and a separate marine conservation area in New England that recently has been used for commercial fishing. Environmental protections at all three monuments had been stripped by former President Donald Trump.

The White House said in a statement that Biden was "fulfilling a key promise" to restore the monuments to their full size and "upholding the longstanding principle that America’s national parks, monuments and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.