Charles “Chuck” F Sams III made history this week in becoming the first-ever Native American confirmed to lead the National Park Service.
Sams, an enrolled tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, received unanimous consent by the US Senate on Thursday after being nominated by Joe Biden in August.
Sam’s confirmation comes nearly 150 years after US leaders began the practice of establishing national parks upon ancestral lands that were often violently seized from Indigenous communities.
Now, with the park service managing more than 400 areas across every state, along with the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, some Indigenous leaders see Sams’ appointment as a potential path toward healing from old but deeply rooted wounds.
“I see this as an opportunity to reconcile that past, to heal that past, and to recognize the deep knowledge and wisdom that a Native American brings to that post,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians and vice-president of the Quinault Indian Nation.