National parks chief promises greater inclusion of Native Americans in land management

The federal government will do more to include Native American tribes in decisions about federal lands, National Park Service Director Charles F. Sams III told a House panel on Tuesday.

In his first appearance before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee since being confirmed as director of parks in November, Sams said President Joe Biden’s administration is seeking greater tribal involvement. in land management.

Several Republicans on the committee used Tuesday’s hearing to criticize the Biden administration’s energy policies as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rocked the global oil market. Biden halted US imports of Russian oil at the same time the hearing took place on Tuesday.

Sams said the NPS co-manages with tribes three NPS units in the continental United States: Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona with the Navajo Nation, Grand Portage National Monument in northern Minnesota with the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa Indians and Big Cypress National Preserve. in Florida with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida Indians.

Nationwide, the agency has about 80 agreements for some type of collaboration with tribes. That number is expected to increase, Sams said.

The NPS and the Department of the Interior are reviewing the powers they already have to expand tribal co-management of federal lands, Sams told the committee. But Sams anticipated that Congress would play a role in providing more tools for the agency to improve.

“I think there are gaps and I look forward to working with you and this committee as we move forward with proposals…on where you can help us fill those gaps,” said Sams to Rep. Don Young, a Republican from Alaska.

Charles F. Sams III. Courtesy of the Office of Oregon Governor Kate Brown.

Sams, an enrolled member, Cayuse and Walla Walla, of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeast Oregon, is the first tribal member to lead the park service. In his previous conservation advocacy work, he had seen examples where tribes were consulted and when they were not, he said.

“When there were tribal connections, it really helped fill in the gaps,” he said. “It was an opportunity for the federal government to not only fulfill its trust responsibilities, but also to build long-term relationships that were transformational and less transactional.”

Carleton Bowekaty, lieutenant governor of the New Mexico-based Pueblo of Zuni and co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, said coordinated planning between tribes and the federal government for a management plan for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah could be a model for other cooperative agreements.

The partnership should appeal to all political walks of life, he said.

“For progressives who like to talk about ‘restorative justice’, what could be more restorative than giving tribes the opportunity to participate in the management of the lands from which their ancestors were driven? he said.

“For conservatives who espouse self-determination and have always supported legislation that provides tribes with the tools to be self-reliant, creating a career path for our young people to become stewards of public lands would establish another pillar in the economically self-sufficient structure of our government.”

oil and gas

The hearing became mired in a familiar partisan battle over the role of oil and gas exploration.

Republicans used the hearing to highlight the potential for energy development on tribal lands, particularly as an alternative to importing from Russia and other adversarial countries.

Ranking Republican Bruce Westerman of Arkansas said the tribes held “huge untapped reserves of energy”.

“Do you think we should try to get more oil and gas from hostile countries like Iran or Venezuela or from tribes like yours? he asked Southern Ute Tribal Council President Melvin J. Baker.

Baker said oil and gas resources are useful for tribes who can exploit them, adding that tribes sometimes have stricter regulations than the federal government.

California Democrat Jared Huffman said the question represented “false choices”.

“Our fellow Republicans keep asking us to pick our favorite Menendez brother or pick the prettiest glue factory horse,” he said. “There is a third way… It’s called clean energy. It changes the whole paradigm…which makes thugs like Putin powerless.

Louisiana Republican Garret Graves took issue with a common joke that some members used as a preface to their questions.

“I’ve heard a number of people say thank you for arranging this hearing. I disagree,” he said.

The committee should instead focus on high gas prices and other energy issues, he said.

“We have an ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia. We have an ongoing crisis right here in the United States,” Graves said. “It’s the committee that can actually design an energy solution. And we do not prioritize our actions, we do not prioritize the competence of this committee. It’s a shame.”

“It’s not the crisis,” she said. “Instead, we must recognize that true energy security comes from moving away from fossil fuels.”

This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez.