President Joe Biden nominated Chuck Sams, a longtime tribal leader from Oregon, as National Parks Service Director.
The 50-year-old Sams, a former administrator of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, is the president’s choice to run the service, which oversees a system that attracts 318 million visitors every year.
If approved by the U.S. Senate, Sams would be the first Native American to serve as National Parks Director. He is an enrolled member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes, which are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon. He and his wife, Lori Sams, and their four children live there.
Sams would be the service’s first full-time director since the Obama administration. Former President Donald Trump nominated a candidate, but he was never confirmed by the Senate, and the agency has been overseen by a series of acting directors for the past four years.
The National Park Service, established in 1916, includes 63 National Parks, such as Crater Lake, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon parks. It also controls national monuments and other historic sites that number about 423 nationwide. The service has about 12,300 employees.
Sams will report to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a former New Mexico congresswoman and the first Native American to hold the position.
Gov. Kate Brown praised the selection, saying Sams would be an excellent steward of the gems of America’s natural beauty.
“Today is a proud day for Oregon. Chuck Sams is among Oregon’s finest, and I can’t think of a better person for the important role of National Park Service Director,” Brown said. “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.”
Sams was chosen earlier this year by Brown as one of Oregon’s two representatives to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. He held positions with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, including executive and deputy executive director, communications director, and environmental health and safety officer/planner. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Navy.
Sams has also been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and Whitman College. He serves on the boards of the Oregon Cultural Trust and Gray Family Foundation. 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.
Sams climbed the ladder in tribal government after returning home in 2012, culminating in a second stint as interim executive director in late 2020. Despite the opportunity, Sams quickly told the board that he would not consider the job on a permanent basis.
Sams said he was already starting to think about other opportunities outside tribal government prior to his appointment to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Sams is the only enrolled tribal member on the power council and only the second Native American in the council’s 30-year-history.
Sams’ appointment was endorsed by Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Brown. Biden had not yet taken office in January when Brown suggested Sams for the National Park Service position.
“During your administration, I envision students — both young and old, tribal and nontribal alike — visiting Yellowstone, Arches, Mesa Verde or Oregon’s Crater Lake, and hearing the stories of our past and present, including the important stories of the tribal peoples who have inhabited these special places,” she wrote to the president. “Chuck is a consummate storyteller, and has the skill set and passion to inspire the dedicated staff of the NPS to tell those stories, and to find new and innovative ways to make our parks accessible to all Americans, while conserving and preserving those lands.”
Sams’ last day in tribal government was March 12. His work was hailed by tribal leaders.
“I can’t thank Chuck enough for his service to the Tribe,” Kat Brigham, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation board, said in a statement. “We are sad to see him go.”