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Leader of Inter-Tribal Fish Commission takes Umatilla Post

by Joe Rojas-Burke
The Oregonian, March 15, 2003

Don Sampson, a guiding force in Northwest salmon recovery, is stepping down as head of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, which represents four tribes with treaty rights to salmon.

The 41-year-old executive is leaving to manage the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, near Pendleton, where he was raised.

During his five years directing the commission, Sampson became a bold advocate for restoration of the Columbia River Basin's historic salmon runs by standing up to federal agencies, calling upon lawmakers to uphold recovery work and creatively drawing attention to the plight of salmon.

Last month, for example, after the Bonneville Power Administration announced plans to hold back salmon spending, Sampson brought together 54 Northwest tribes to challenge the agency's budget and handling of wildlife programs.

During his tenure, he rallied political support and funding for tribal-operated hatcheries, overcoming opposition from groups worried about the impact of artificial breeding on native fish.

On the public awareness front, Sampson was a behind-the-scenes organizer of "Jammin for Salmon," a music, food and fish conservation festival that debuted in Portland in 2001, attracting thousands to Portland's waterfront.

"He's been an extraordinary leader," said Bill Arthur, Sierra Club regional director. "He's done a great job keeping the scientific substance in the debate. He's also been effective at bringing out the moral imperative of the Northwest to do what it takes to save salmon, not just meet the legal and treaty requirements."

Said Rod Sando, executive director of the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Authority: "He'll be very hard to replace. Don is one of those individuals who made a difference and accomplished a lot."

Although Sampson's departure is a loss for the inter-tribal commission, Arthur and others said he has built a solid foundation. Sampson's new tribal leadership role also puts him in a powerful advocacy position.

"There's no question he's going to continue to be an advocate for salmon restoration," said Charles Hudson, a spokesman for the inter-tribal fish commission.

As director for the Umatilla tribes, Sampson will oversee a $50 million annual operating budget. The Umatilla have treaty rights dating from 1855 to salmon and other natural resources on their 172,000-acre reservation.

Sampson said returning to the cultural, ceremonial and family ties at the Umatilla Reservation is a priority for him, his wife and four children. They now live in Lake Oswego.

He also said he was eager to tackle the wide-ranging challenges of tribal management, including health care, education, economic development, tribal courts, as well as salmon and other natural resources.

"I know I will miss being in the middle of salmon recovery issues," Sampson said. "That's going to be the most difficult thing for me personally."

He will remain with the inter-tribal commission until mid-June, overseeing the selection of his replacement.

Sampson graduated from Pendleton High School in 1979. He earned a bachelor's degree in fisheries management and a minor in Native American studies at the University of Idaho. He first worked for the inter-tribal fish commission as an intern in 1981, then worked a variety of fishery management positions with the Umatilla and other tribal authorities until 1993, when he was elected chairman of the Umatilla board of trustees. He has served as executive director of the inter-tribal fish commission since 1999.

Joe Rojas-Burke
Leader of Inter-Tribal Fish Commission takes Umatilla Post
The Oregonian, March 15, 2003

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