Mentor of the Highest Order – A Precious Elder has Passed


An hour ago, this text message from my dear friend, Charles Hudson:
Roy has passed.

In immediate loving memory, I am reposting this blog from October 10, 2014.

Before you read this, though, I want you to know this man is one of the very few about whom no one can exaggerate upon his death. Roy Sampsel is truly a Great Tribal Leader. Daily, he touched the world and its people in ways that have left us all better than we otherwise would be. In the coming days and weeks, many will speak of him with deserved praise and appreciation. Not only impossible to exaggerate – impossible fully to express. Over time, the effects of Roy’s years among us may not be directly associated with his name, but they will be benefit generations.


Oct. 10, 2014 – Late yesterday, the longstanding and visionary environmental organization, Ecotrust, announced this year’s awardees for the Indigenous Leadership Award.  Among the five leaders named is Roy Hunter Sampsel, my dear friend and mentor.  What well-deserved recognition.  This man is a giant of leadership!

I had a nagging sense of incongruence when my first move to announce how thrilled I am with this news was to put it on facebook – but such is the intersection of social media and the inspiration of a living legend.

This is what I posted:

GREAT news – My friend and mentor, Roy Sampsel is honored as a great Tribal Leader. With or without recognition, this man has been tireless in offering his visionary and generous care, skill, and wisdom. What a brilliant life!

And now, here’s my next impulse – to post here the text of the letter I wrote in support of this nomination.  This man’s life has always taught and I am happy that, in reading this you can know of him, too.





Dear Reading Panel and Jury Members:

This month, Direlle Calica, J.D. (Warm Springs), made formal nomination of Roy Hunter Sampsel (Wyandotte/Choctaw) for the 2014 Indigenous Leadership Award.  I offer this letter as a strong and enthusiastic endorsement of this nomination.

First Indigenous Ways of Knowing Conference - July, 2006

First Indigenous Ways of Knowing Conference – July, 2006

Over the past ten years, I have come to know Mr. Sampsel as a colleague in academe, public service, as a mentor and as a friend.  Most substantially, I have had the distinct honor of working with Mr. Sampsel to establish the Indigenous Ways of Knowing (IWOK) program at Lewis & Clark College.  As part of that program he and I served over seven years as co-instructors for five graduate courses in the IWOK curriculum.  In this time, I have observed closely Mr. Sampsel’s work with a broad range of Salmon Nation citizens:  Native and non-Native, Republican, Democrat and Independent; women and men of many ages and of diverse physical abilities and sexual orientations.

Roy Sampsel has given a lifetime to leadership in and among Indigenous communities throughout Salmon Nation and across the United States.  Only recently, he stepped down as the Executive Director of the Institute for Tribal Government in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.  Earlier in his career he served as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for the Pacific Northwest Region during the Nixon Administration and a decade later as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs for the US Department of the Interior during the Regan Administration.  In between, Mr. Sampsel worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on implementation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Act and served as the first Executive Director of the Columbia Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), an organization with which he has continued to play a significant role.

While he has filled each of these positions and myriad others with laudable professional skill and effect, to see only his paid accomplishments would be to miss the vast generosity and impact of this true Leader.  In his lifetime, Roy Sampsel has earned wages for work, yet he is known far more widely as an incisive and inspiring guide and teacher who gives regardless of payment.  In Intertribal gatherings, Tribal community settings, and academic halls I have heard stories of his unstinting devotion.  Tirelessly and with his considerable intelligence and energy Mr. Sampsel has devoted himself to facilitating communication among Tribal communities and between the Tribes and U.S. Federal, state and local governments and other public entities.

In classes, Mr. Sampsel has spoken of his grandmother, a woman of no formal Western education who was his most influential role model.  With fluency in five languages of the Oklahoma Tribes in the early 20th century, she served to mediate economic, personal and governmental disputes toward understanding and agreement.  Mr. Sampsel listened and watched his grandmother and, as a result, has been true to her legacy over the generous course of his own adulthood.  He moved with his parents to the Pacific Northwest and has made this his home, offering his grandmother’s skills throughout Salmon Nation and beyond for more than six decades.

Here are a few examples.

In his service with the Nixon administration, Roy Sampsel went above and beyond all job description to place his life on the line in order to assist resolution of conflicts at Wounded Knee, Alcatraz and the BIA offices in Washington, DC.  His focus was most urgently the safety of the Indian and non-Indian people involved.  He acted knowing the restoration of safety could support communication across opposing factions to advance the recognition and sustenance of sovereignty and support increasingly beneficial government-to-government relationships between Tribes and the United States.

Outside his direct government service, Roy Sampsel has given hours of time specifically to developing and delivering undergraduate and graduate curricula based in living indigenous epistemologies.  He has contributed significantly to the Great Tribal Leaders of Modern Times curriculum of the Tribal Leadership Forum, and, as mentioned above, the IWOK program.  He has worked in Native communities across the country to address issues of climate change, water rights, tribal governance, economic development, and education among many others.

Roy Sampsel has held volunteer advisory posts too numerous to list.  In each his priority is on representing the interests and concerns of Native peoples.  He currently serves as Chairman of the External Advisory Board of Oregon Health Sciences University’s Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction, as an inaugural member of the Executive Board of the Institute for Tribal Government and the Tribal Leadership Forum, as a Senior Fellow with the Center for Public Service with the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University, and as an member of the Advisory Board of the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center (OHSU).

Currently and in recent years, Mr. Sampsel has also been advisory to these organizations (with acknowledgement of the vastly incomplete nature of this listing):

  • The Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council
  • The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission
  • The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation
  • The National Indian Child Welfare Association
  • Indigenous Ways of Knowing Program, Lewis & Clark College
  • Nixyaawii Community High School, Pendleton, OR
  • One Sky Center (OHSU)

From my experience working closely with Roy Sampsel for a decade, I can report that his every action is in service to the wellbeing of people – all people.  In that, his commitment is first to the Native people living now and seven generations into the future.  Whether Mr. Sampsel is helping Leaders and communities think about the wellbeing of fish, wildlife, or water; whether he is offering guidance on public policy, healthcare, Elders, energy or the economy he is always and clearly advocating for the people and the natural world we all share.

Roy Sampsel has never been about stopping with words or ideas.  He is a champion of taking action.  The well-known fact that thousands of Native American young people have been directly affected by Mr. Sampsel’s generosity as a mentor is perhaps the most profound evidence of his devotion in action.  Scores of these youth have become recognized Tribal and public leaders and the rest have taken on leadership roles of less renown but no less vital consequence.  The number of lives in Indian Country touched in positive ways directly and then by the ripples out from Mr. Sampsel’s original wisdom, guidance and generosity is truly staggering.

So, it is with gratitude and a sense of good timing that I support the nomination and awarding of Roy Sampsel, a lifetime Indigenous Leader.  I have observed that Mr. Sampsel is a man who always looks to ensuring the honoring of others.  It is time to honor him.

Thank you for your kind consideration of my words,

Most Sincerely,


Mary M. Clare, Ph.D.

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One Comment on “Mentor of the Highest Order – A Precious Elder has Passed

  1. Sadly I too learned today of Roy’s passing. Our friendship began in the 70s when Roy was a young fellow working on the senatorial campaign of Bob Packwood of Oregon, and I was a novice reporter for United Press International in Portland. When I left UPI Roy’s support was a great help in my getting a position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His constant support and great friendship were a wonderful part of my life and career for nearly 50 years. I will miss him. Go in peace my friend.

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