Charles “Chuck” F. Sams III, President Biden's choice for National Park Service Director
Charles “Chuck” F. Sams III, President Biden's choice for National Park Service Director

Leaders of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation are happy and hopeful to see one of their own tribal members making history this week.

Charles “Chuck” F. Sams III, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Cocopah and Yankton descent, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as Director of the National Park Service. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Sams would be the first American Indian to serve in this role as National Parks Director.

Kat Brigham, Chair, CTUIR Board of Trustees, in an email statement, called Sams’ nomination and expected Congressional approval, a “historical moment for America and a monumental milestone for Tribal people throughout Indian Country.

“The CTUIR is proud to see one of our own tribal members, Mr. Charles “Chuck” Sams, recognized for the tremendous experience, knowledge, principles and dedication to conservation that he has demonstrated throughout his career of service to all Tribes and people of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the country … We applaud Mr. Sams on his nomination and are optimistic to see his leadership continuing to conserve and protect the precious resources within the National Park Service,” she wrote. “Mr. Sams is aware of how important it is to take care of the land for today and future generations.”

Antone Minthorn, former Chair of the CTUIR Board of Trustees, said Sams is the “right person, on the cutting edge” of conservation efforts throughout Indian Country.

“It’s significant. It’s timely,” said Minthorn, a Nez Perce language speaker for the CTUIR Education Department. “I think Chuck really comes from a place where there’s been a lot of activity with the Tribes growth. He knows the importance of our treaty rights and has been instrumental in our efforts to restore water, restore salmon, and build our economy. I think he is the right person, but he needs to remember where he came from – the CTUIR.”

Dave Tovey, former CTUIR Executive Director who now runs the Tribes’ Nixyaawii Community Financial Services, has worked with Sams for several years.

“This is a massive achievement for Chuck,” said Tovey. “He’s spent a lifetime preparing for something this big in all aspects of his life. Proud to call him friend and trusted colleague.”

If approved, Sams will run an agency that has a staff of some 20,000 serving in 63 national parks, including Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, as well as Crater Lake, the only national park in Oregon. The National Park Service also manages 423 national monuments and other historic sites.

Bobbie Conner, director of the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, the museum and archive repository for CTUIR, said Sams will be a good keeper of America’s parks.

“Our tribal culture teaches us to take care of the earth, the water, and all the plants and animals who are our relatives,” Conner said. “Chuck is well grounded in these teachings and is an excellent choice to serve as top steward for the Nation’s protected natural places.”

Sams, who held numerous positions with CTUIR, has worked in state and tribal government and nonprofit natural resource and conservation management for more than 25 years.

Sams currently serves on the boards of the Oregon Cultural Trust and Gray Family Foundation. He and his wife, Lori Sams, live in Pendleton, Oregon. Sams has four children.

While his former colleagues were effusive in their praise, Sams himself won’t comment on the nomination until the official appointment is made.

Display photo: Chuck Sams teaching Whitman College students in 2018 about the Treaty of 1855 and CTUIR history. Photo courtesy of Whitman College/Underscore.news

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ContributorWil Phinney has been a reporter and editor for more than 40 years at newspapers in Oregon, Wyoming and Montana. He recently retired after 24 years as editor of the Confederated Umatilla Journal,...