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:
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument of Arizona’s Navajo Nation
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve of southeast Alaska
- Grand Portage National Monument of Minnesota’s Grand Portage Indian Reservation
- Big Cypress National Preserve of Florida
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.
- The Wabanaki Nations of Maine are currently working with Acadia National Park on “traditional gathering of sweetgrass that have resulted from centuries of learned ecological knowledge,” USA TODAY cites.
- Mount Rainier National Park is also working with Nisqually Tribe leadership to publish a report on plant gathering there.
- And in Redwood National and State Parks, the Yurok Tribe of California is currently reinstating California condors to Yurok Ancestral Territory.
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