TOPPENISH – The nation’s second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, heard pleas Tuesday from the Yakama Nation to tear out the lower Snake River dams and to take action on missing and murdered tribal members.
The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris met with the Yakama Nation Tribal Council at Legends Casino, pledging to pass on their concerns to Harris when he saw her Tuesday night and to President Joe Biden when he next sees him.
It was Emhoff’s second visit on behalf of the Biden administration to a tribal nation, a sign of how seriously the administration takes tribal concerns, he said.
“It is very humbling to be on your land,” he said, after bowing his head during a song of blessing for him and Harris. It is the same song that has protected the Yakama people in Washington as they went out to gather food and the veterans in the tribe, he was told.
Emhoff called the blessing “very emotional” and said he would never forget it, before he and the council began to discuss issues.
Over the last month he has been traveling the nation to promote the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package signed by Biden.
“This administration is fully committed to working in partnership with Indian Country,” he said.
Emhoff’s visit showed that tribal nations are no longer taken for granted by the U.S. government, said Roger Fiander, chairman of the Yakama Nation General Council.
Tribal council Chairman Delano Saluskin brought up the proposal of Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to breach the four Lower Snake River dams to help restore endangered salmon, saying the Yakama Nation supports it.
Under Simpson’s proposal, $34 billion in taxpayer money would be spent to help those who now benefit from the dams, including the Tri-Cities, irrigators and shippers.
“We are fish people,” Saluskin said. “We live off fish. We honor the fish in our first foods ceremony. And if we don’t do something now we are all going to be competing to catch that last salmon.”
Emhoff made no comment on the issue, instead discussing the new administration’s concern for missing and murdered Indigenous women, the toll the COVID pandemic has taken and the administration’s proposals to strengthen the economy, including for the nation’s tribes.
The federal investment in native communities is $31 billion. It provides immediate relief to those who need it most, support for native businesses, housing and schools, and provides money for increased COVID vaccinations.
Emhoff was scheduled to tour the Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Vaccination Center at the Central Washington Fairgrounds in Yakima with Gov. Jay Inslee early Tuesday afternoon.