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Director of NPS says Indigenous partnerships can help solve climate change, conservation challenges

Chuck Sams William and Mary
Pamela D'Angelo
National Park Service Director Charles F. "Chuck" Sams III and Nikki Bass (Nansemond Tribe) during a forum at William & Mary

Charles F. "Chuck" Sams, III is the 19th director of the National Park Service and the first Tribal citizen to lead the agency since its creation in 1916. "I am Cayuse and Walla Walla from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation with blood ties to the Yankton Sioux and Cocopah Tribes of Arizona," Sams notes.

As he faces overcrowded, understaffed parks he’s also dealing with increased wildfires, and melting glaciers. The administration is seeking help from Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge. "Having at least 15,000 years on the landscape and science really being about observation, we have a lot that Tribal people can bring into that discussion. And using Western science, matched with ecological knowledge to have more resiliency as we see the effects of climate change happening all across the world, but most importantly, within our park systems themselves."

Robert Rose directs the The Institute for Integrative Conservation, which is training the next generation of conservation leaders. They work with conservationists, state and federal agencies and Tribes. "The whole approach is let’s hear what your challenges are and let’s see if we can help you solve those challenges," Rose said.

The institute has a global reach with partners in Mongolia, Argentina and the Philippines. And it recently began supporting conservation efforts of the Nansemond and Nottoway Tribes in Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.