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Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

The Senate this week voted to unanimously confirm Charles Sams III as director of the National Park Service, making him the first Native American to head the agency.

State of play: Sams is the first director to be confirmed by the Senate in five years, AP reports. Jonathan Jarvis, who was confirmed under the Obama administration, left the position in 2017 and, since then, the agency has been led by acting directors.

  • The National Park Service is part of the Interior Department. Sams will report to Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold this position.

What he's saying: "I am deeply honored," Sams told the Confederated Umatilla Journal, a newspaper from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

  • "I am also very deeply appreciative of the support, guidance and counsel of my Tribal elders and friends throughout my professional career. I look forward to carrying on the responsibility of being a good steward of our natural resources and in joining the dedicated and dynamic staff of the National Park Service."

During the confirmation process, Sams said he would prioritize incorporating Native American perspectives when handling national parks, the Indian Country Today notes.

  • While some senators questioned his lack of experience with the park service, Sams said his nonprofit work, which included facilitating land transfers and donations to the park service and working with volunteers on conservation and invasive species management, has prepared him for the job.
  • Sams served as a council member to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. He “has worked in state and tribal governments and the non- profit natural resource and conservation management fields for over 25 years,” according to the White House.

Go deeper

Native Americans are under-represented in movies and TV, report says

Lil Mike and Funny Bone perform at the after party for the premiere of FX Network's "Reservation Dogs" in Hollywood, California. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Native Americans' representation in mainstream movies has barely improved over the past 30 years.

Why it matters: Since the death of George Floyd, Black and Latino advocates have pressured Hollywood and streaming services to diversify their projects with more actors and directors of color — yet Native Americans have largely been absent.

COVID cases and deaths are on the rise

Expand chart
Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising all across the U.S. even before the Omicron variant takes hold.

Why it matters: The holidays — and the inevitable spread of Omicron — will only heighten the risks that unvaccinated Americans face from COVID, in all its forms.

Updated 1 hour ago - Health

New Zealand aims to create smoke-free generation with tobacco ban

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at a December news conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand officials announced Thursday legislative plans to outlaw smoking by making it illegal to sell or supply tobacco products to the next generation as part of a lifetime ban.

Why it matters: "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement announcing the proposed law, part of the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan.

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