2011 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award
Honoree: Chuck Sams
Charles F. (Chuck) Sams III is honored as a 2011 Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award finalist for his dedication to the repatriation of conservation and cultural lands to tribes. As a founder of Indian Country Conservancy, a national non-profit dedicated to re-acquiring conservation lands taken from tribes during the allotment and termination eras, he continues the work of bringing land back into trust for tribal nations in order to protect both sovereign rights and natural resources. Chuck is also recognized for his extensive work in salmon restoration and his dedication to Native youth, especially in reconnecting them with the way of the salmon.
Chuck Sams grew up on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Northeast Oregon and is enrolled in the Cocopah Nation, with family ties to the Yanktonia Sioux and Cayuse Tribe. After graduating from Pendleton High School he joined the U.S. Navy, graduating with honors from the United States Navy Intelligence Training Center A School. From 1988 until 1995 he served as a Navy Intelligence Specialist on both active and reserve duty, receiving a Navy Achievement Medal in 1991 for combat operations during Desert Storm. He graduated from Concordia University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Management, Communications, and Leadership.
Chuck Sams’ career-long commitment to conservation began in 1992 as a policy analyst for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s Special Science program, analyzing the effects of nuclear contaminates on salmon and other species near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. This commitment included stints with the City Volunteer Corps of New York, where he developed and managed the first AmeriCorps programs in New York City; with the Earth Conservation Corps’ Salmon Corp program, where he continued his work with young people as Executive Director; with the non-profit Community Energy Project working on energy and water conservation, where he also served as Executive Director; and as Executive Director of the Columbia Slough Watershed Council, restoring and protecting the Columbia Slough and its watershed.
In 2000 Chuck received the U.S. President’s Service Medal from the White House and Points of Light Foundation for his work on salmon restoration in the Columbia River basin.
From 2006 until 2010, Chuck worked with the Trust for Public Land as National Director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program. Assisting over seventy tribes and native communities, he helped develop strategies to reclaim Native lands with a focus on watersheds, wildlife corridors, working forests, and waterways. Under his leadership, Lyle Point — an important fishery and burial site for Native people at the confluence of the Klickitat and Columbia Rivers — was acquired by the Yakama Nation. Sams also worked with the Klamath Tribes of Southern Oregon in an ongoing effort to reacquire 90,000 acres of former reservation land — “…a major achievement for this wrongly terminated tribal nation in their long struggle back to cultural independence and economic self-reliance,” per Sams.
In 2010 Chuck left the Trust for Public Land to co-found Indian Country Conservancy (ICC), and now serves as President and CEO of this national non-profit organization. ICC is dedicated to re-acquiring critical conservation and cultural lands taken from tribes, missions, pueblos, Rancherias and Native communities. The goal of ICC is to repatriate these lands for tribal stewardship in order to help rebuild Native nations. Concurrently, Chuck is also serving as Executive Director of the Umatilla Tribal Community Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity dedicated to building a foundation that will provide funding for education, culture, economic development, environmental and social programming for tribal members of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Chuck Sams, his wife Lori and their children Rosey, Chauncey, and Clara live in Pendleton, Oregon. He continues to dedicate his life to preserving land for conservation and sustainable use, to honoring the traditional teachings and laws of stewardship he received from his grandfather and elders, and to teaching that wisdom to new generations.