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Senate confirms first Native American head of National Park Service

Senate confirms first Native American head of National Park Service
The Senate confirmed Chuck Sams III on Thursday to be the director of the National Park Service. File Photo courtesy of Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Nov. 20 (UPI) -- Charles "Chuck" Sams III has become the first Native American to lead the National Park Service.

The Senate confirmed Sams, of Oregon, to be director of the service in a voice vote Thursday, indicating unanimous support.

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The White House announced his nomination in August.

"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 to everyone," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who was confirmed in March as the first Native American Cabinet secretary, said in a statement. "I look forward 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."

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RELATED Interior chief Deb Haaland moves to strike derogatory names from federal lands

Sams has served as council member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council since Oregon Gov. Kate Brown appointed him in March.

He's an enrolled member of the Cayuse and Walla Walla, which are affiliated with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon where he grew up.

Sams is also a U.S. Navy veteran and has served as an intelligence specialist before working for more than 25 years in the nonprofit natural resource and conservation management field.

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"My personal history is deeply interwoven with the fabric of our shared American history," Sams said during his confirmation hearing last month. "Although I have not worn the National Park Service's uniform, I have worn the uniform of the United States Navy during wartime. And I wear the regalia of my tribe to honor my ancestors and elders. These uniforms are reminders of the sacrifices made to protect our homelands and the responsibility to pass down those lands in a stronger state than they are now."

Over his more than 25 years in the nonprofit conservation and management field, Sams has worked for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in various positions, including executive director, spokesperson, environmental health and safety officer, as well as planner in the tribal planning office. He has also served in top leadership roles at the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, Community Energy Project, and president and Earth Conservation Corps.

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Sams also serves on the Oregon Cultural Trust and Gray Family Foundation boards.

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He holds a bachelors degree in business administration from Concordia University and a master of legal studies from the University of Oklahoma.

The day after Sams' confirmation, Haaland ordered the removal of the word "squaw," declaring it a derogatory term for Native American women, from 650 federal sites where it appears.

On Monday, President Joe Biden proposed a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico during the Tribal Nation summit. The summit was the first of its kind at the White House in five years.

RELATED Biden proposes 20-year ban on Chaco Canyon drilling at Tribal Nations Summit

The Greater Chaco Landscape "is a region of great cultural, spiritual, and historical significance to many Pueblos and Indian Tribes" that contains "thousands of artifacts that date back more than 1,000 years," the White House said in a statement.

Biden also signed an executive order on Monday for several departments to create a strategy within 240 days to improve public safety and justice for Native Americans and address "the epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous people and violence against Native Americans."

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On Tuesday, Biden's proposed drilling ban faced some push back from the Navajo Nation's Council, which said it prefers a smaller "5-mile buffer within and around the sacred site."

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