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Stereotype of the Month Entry
(3/30/07)


Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Heed advice Yakamas, Toppenish 'must co-exist in harmony'

Clearly the saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" doesn't fit when it comes to the history of sometimes strained relations between the Yakama Nation and city of Toppenish.

Words can indeed hurt and sometimes are best left unsaid.

Ask Toppenish Mayor Bill Rogers.

Last week in a televised interview, Rogers linked the city's budget woes (lack of enough money) with the fact that Yakama tribal members don't pay taxes; he later clarified to say he meant sales taxes. The subsequent outrage from some tribal members who saw it as an ethnic insult and digging up old stereotypes was predictable and understandable. The nation is, after all, a key component of the mid-Valley economy.

Rogers later acknowledged that tribal members pay taxes on property and utilities in town and are only exempt from sales tax because the city is within the reservation. That exemption is guaranteed by the treaty of 1855, in which the federal government recognizes the Yakama Nation as a sovereign government.

Since the treaty is older than either the sales tax (1935) or Toppenish itself (incorporated in 1907), the exemption is certainly common knowledge for Toppenish budget writers. A tax that's never been collected obviously has never been part of the budget.

We will give Rogers credit in dealing with his faux pas. While his remarks about sales tax collections may be factually correct, they were delivered in a most socially inopportune way.

But he quickly apologized for the remarks, and later made repeated apologies to tribal members at this week's Toppenish City Council meeting. At that time, he said he still planned to apologize in person to tribal leaders, and has already done so during a telephone conversation with Tribal Council Chairwoman Lavina Washines.

That should cover it. We take the man at his word, unless and until something new comes up.

Now it's time to let it go.

We also take special note of Washines' reaction to the incident: "The Yakama Nation people and the citizens of Toppenish must co-exist in harmony on the same landscape the best we possibly can regardless of political differences as we have since the city was incorporated in 1907. We don't want to make a big issue or have this negatively impact the tribe any more than it already has."

That's a measured, thoughtful response and very good advice.

The incident was being blown out of all proportion. Some want Rogers to resign or even be recalled.

The mayor is a council member elected by fellow members to the largely ceremonial position of mayor. Rogers only has nine months left on his term in that position and his council seat is up in November 2009. At that time, voters can make the decision to retain or replace him if he even decides to run for re-election.

There has been talk of some tribal members boycotting Toppenish businesses as a protest of the remarks. What a misdirected effort that would be, penalizing innocent business people for the remarks since recanted of one public official.

It's time for all parties to put this incident behind them and move on to constructive dialogue. There are simply too many pressing issues that are more important for the city and the nation to address in a government-to-government spirit of mutual cooperation.

* Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Michael Shepard, Sarah Jenkins and Bill Lee.

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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