BUFFALO, N.Y. — Growing up on the Seneca Nation in Western New York, Rodney Haring, PhD, MSW, learned the concept of “The Good Mind” largely from the matrilineal voices in his community. He calls this philosophy, which is one of the shaping principles of the Haudenosaunee people, “a strength from awareness of purpose, thoughts and actions towards well-being.”
“These lessons taught me that every situation you’re in, you do your best to leave the encounter with a handshake or a nod,” Dr. Haring says, “because you don’t know what the next hour, day or year will bring.”
Now he is building that philosophy into the work of the Center for Indigenous Cancer Research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center — the first initiative of its kind in the Northeast, dedicated to reducing cancer’s impact on Indigenous communities regionally, nationally and internationally.
Working with partners across North America, center staff will coordinate educational events, host health screenings, conduct research and develop action plans to address not only health disparities but larger issues that impact wellness, such as humans’ relationship to the environment. Dr. Haring, who leads the new center as Director, highlights what can be gained from applying lessons from both academic medicine and Indigenous knowledge.
“The creation of this center, which will be inspired by Indigenous knowledge and ancestral wisdom, is historic and monumental,” he says. “Roswell Park’s Center for Indigenous Cancer Research will not only advance cutting-edge cancer research to, for and with Indigenous populations, it will lead to translatable science, medicine and cancer care for Indigenous territories, Nations and populations worldwide. And through our focus on educational opportunities, the center will expand Roswell Park’s values of commitment, hope, respect and inspiration for generations to come.”
“The Center for Indigenous Cancer Research will tackle some of the most persistent challenges in health equity, applying a unique set of resources to improve the lives of people both near and far,” says Candace S. Johnson, PhD, President & CEO and M&T Bank Presidential Chair in Leadership at Roswell Park. “We’re so proud of Dr. Haring and all he and his team have accomplished, and deeply grateful to all the partners and ambassadors who will help us to do this important work.”
“The Seneca Nation appreciates the work that Roswell Park and Dr. Haring are conducting in Native communities to ensure that comprehensive cancer care addresses the unique circumstances of Native communities when dealing with cancer, including prevention education,” says Seneca Nation President Rickey L. Armstrong Sr. “We look forward to our continued collaborative relationship with Dr. Haring and Roswell Park.”
Roswell Park has collaborated with several sovereign nations, including the Seneca and Tuscarora, and is now extending these efforts well beyond Western New York. Dr. Haring and colleagues have initiated collaborations with two ancestrally related tribes, the St. Regis Mohawk in north-central New York State and the Kahnawake Mohawk territory near Montreal, Quebec, working with tribal leaders, health-delivery teams and rural providers to conduct roundtable discussions focused on cancer care quality improvement, research and envisioning future projects.
“One of our goals is to ensure a culturally attuned cancer care continuum from prevention through to survivorship and palliative care,” says Dr. Haring. “That’s really important in a community where we see disparities in many cancers as well as co-occurring conditions affecting Indigenous communities. We also will work to improve education about cancer screening and clinical trials, and we won’t do this work alone. Collaboration will be a hallmark of this center and will be built into everything we do.”
The center fulfills some of the benchmarks established through Roswell Park’s 2016 collaborative agreement with the Indian Health Service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, another first-of-its-kind initiative focused on health care, cancer prevention, facilitation of research and expansion of career and educational opportunities.
The center’s work is being led by Dr. Haring along with an intertribal Community Advisory Board and three additional dedicated staff members: Whitney Ann Henry (Tuscarora), Clinical Research Associate; William Maybee (Seneca), Community Relations Coordinator; and Josie Raphaelito, MPH (Dine/Navajo), Research Project Coordinator. Key to its efforts will be partnerships with Indigenous communities across North America, including ongoing interactions with Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.
Since he joined the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement within Roswell Park’s Department of Cancer Prevention and Control in 2015, Dr. Haring and colleagues have earned more than $2.1 million toward initiatives in Indigenous communities from the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Aetna Foundation, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Roswell Park Alliance Foundation.
The team has built an international collaborative research network with Indigenous researchers from as far away as Norway, New Zealand and Pacific Island Nations. Their work has been marked by extensive collaboration on outreach and prevention initiatives in both Native urban settings and rural Indigenous territories, and has helped create learning and internship opportunities for Indigenous high school and college students.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at www.roswellpark.org, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or ASKRoswell@RoswellPark.org.