Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff, who is touring Central Washington to review the COVID-19 response, started his visit at the Yakama Nation on Tuesday morning.

Emhoff was greeted with a traditional honor song as he arrived to meet with the Yakama Nation Tribal Council in Toppenish.

Yakama Tribal Chairman Delano Saluskin described the toll the virus has taken on the Yakama Nation, both in terms of lives lost – 49 — and the cultural losses. Saluskin said tribal funeral customs have been curtailed due to COVID restrictions.

“This hurt a lot of people because they were not able to see their loved ones off,” Saluskin said.

Emhoff said the administration is sensitive to the effect the pandemic has had on Native communities, particularly with the loss of elders who speak tribal languages.

“This is why President Biden has taken bold, bold steps to address the pandemic,” Emhoff said, including the American Recovery Act, which provides $31 billion for assistance to Native communities.

Emhoff said the Yakama Nation’s willingness to forego traditions for public health purposes was both appreciated and an example for others.

Tribal council secretary Athena Sanchey-Yallup discussed the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people, and efforts to address the issue.

Emhoff said violence against women is an issue Vice President Kamala Harris has worked on since she was a prosecutor, and President Biden supported the Violence Against Women Act. Emhoff is married to Harris. 

Saluskin presented Emhoff with blankets emblazoned with the Yakama Nation’s seal.
 
Emhoff also toured the Yakima COVID vaccination site at the Yakima Valley SunDome with Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Sammamish. Emhoff said the partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state and Yakima County health officials was an example for the rest of the country.
 
This story is developing and will be updated.
 
This story was updated to correct Athena Sanchey-Yallup's title.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.