National Parks Director Wants to Boost Native American Role in Managing Public Lands

by Jon D. B.
(Photo by Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Under the guidance of National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, NPS is looking to increase the role Native American tribes play in managing U.S. public lands.

During Tuesday’s virtual hearing, Director Sams told members of a congressional committee that he and other NPS officials are committed to “boosting” the role Native American tribes take in managing our public lands. To do so, Sams plans to integrate Indigenous knowledge into NPS management plans. And everything from historical and cultural sites to water supplies and forest health are on the line.

Key to change, however, is recognizing that NPS federal lands once belonged to the Indigenous tribes of North America.

“Much of this has been missing from our history books, that understanding that tribes are sovereign,” Sams told the committee. “What could be a better avenue of restorative justice than giving tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of lands that their ancestors were removed from?”

Director Sams cites “collaborative problem-solving” with Native American leadership as crucial to the future of our national parks system and the management of U.S. public lands. And through a “candid exchange of perspectives,” he says, co-management can flourish.

Sams himself is of the Cayuse and Walla Walla peoples. He is also a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. But as National Park Service Director, he is the first Indigenous person to lead NPS. Educating modern Americans on the past and present, he says, will be key to ensuring a fruitful and fair partnership.

National Parks That Embrace Native American Stewardship of Public Lands So Far

Those in attendance showed agreeance with Sams that the federal government also has an obligation to heed the voices of tribal leadership. But so far, only four national parks share co-management responsibilities with Native Americans. These are:

Moreover, backing up Director Sams were tribal officials from New Mexico, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest region. By his stewardship, NPS has around 80 cooperative agreements with tribes now in place. Sams also expects that number to flourish in the coming years.

Currently, dozens more national parks have programs in place to work with local Native American tribes. In addition, many more hope to work with Indigenous leaders on the management of public lands.

Watch National Park Service Director Chuck Sams Full Hearing

View this landmark virtual hearing in full below. Within, you’ll hear much more from National Park Service Director Chuck Sams on the importance of Native American leadership with our public lands:

On Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at 10:00 a.m. (EST). The Committee on Natural Resources will hold a remote oversight hearing entitled… Examining the History of Federal Lands and the Development of Tribal Co-Management.

House Natural Resources Committee Democrats