A program launched at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center three years ago to advance health equity and access by strengthening connections between cancer researchers and Indigenous communities has grown into a broad-based team of Indigenous experts with an expanded scope and purpose. The cancer center’s new Department of Indigenous Cancer Health reflects the significant growth of an initiative led since its inception by health disparities expert Rodney Haring, PhD, MSW, an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, Beaver Clan.
“The Department of Indigenous Cancer Health at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is the first of its kind at any National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the country, which is monumental in many different ways,” says Dr. Haring, newly named Chair of the department, who has served on the Roswell Park faculty since 2012.
“It’s so important that we have integrated resources to offer the communities and organizations we serve. It’s not enough to focus just on how to make cancer research more beneficial for Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. We have to be there with supports and services at every step from prevention to education, patient services and translating research into practice, and our new framework as a department makes full use of the tools and partnerships we’ve forged along the way.”
“Our Indigenous Cancer Health programs have been a keystone that’s brought incredible depth and reach to Roswell Park’s mission to serve our communities,” says Roswell Park President, CEO and M&T Bank Presidential Chair in Leadership Candace S. Johnson, PhD. “Aligning these resources as a department recognizes the possibility for global benefit from our work to bridge gaps in services, in access and in understanding.”
Since the program was established in 2020 as the Center for Indigenous Cancer Research, the Indigenous Cancer Health initiative at Roswell Park has:
- Grown into an interdisciplinary team of experts, including Dr. Haring as program Chair and faculty sponsor, David Mattson, Jr., MD, Native Hawaiian, Assistant Professor and Director of GI and GYN Radiation Services, as Clinical Advisor; Josie Raphaelito, MPH, Diné/Navajo, as Assistant Director; Hugh Burnam, PhD, Mohawk Nation, Wolf Clan, as Research Affiliate.
- Department staff include community-based patient navigators as well as physician-scientists and experts in public health, community relations and clinical research — all of whom are from Indigenous communities.
- Renewed a first-of-its kind cancer-focused Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Health Service (IHS) within the of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, first awarded in 2016, and helped shape and inform IHS’ work; Dr. Haring and Raphaelito serve on IHS’ National Tribal Cancer Workgroup.
- Reached thousands of residents of tribal, and adjacent, urban and rural communities with health screening, education or linkage to clinical care and supportive resources.
- Hosted students from Indigenous communities for experiential learning introducing them to the field of medical research, including a tribally led partnership that has brought dozens of high school and college students from the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to Roswell Park.
- Successfully competed for research grants from public and private funding organizations including the National Cancer Institute, other National Institutes of Health agencies and the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, and published numerous studies in peer-reviewed medical and public-health journals on topics ranging from health communications to COVID-19 control, genomic-based data use agreements with Indigenous populations and novel proposals to address cancer health disparities and improve outcomes.
- Partnered with health experts from Native Nations and international collaborators including the Māori of New Zealand.
“The Department of Indigenous Cancer Health at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer has created a unique opportunity to include indigenous perspectives and medicines, in their care, treatment, and research – capitalizing on the true power of inclusive diversity in their work. It’s not just the lip service of having representation. They are realizing significant and potentially groundbreaking benefits. Their efforts not only increase the quality of care, but the opportunities created by this team to educate are inspiring and developing the next generation of Native American medical professionals and researchers,” says Michael Martin, Executive Director of Native American Community Services and member of the Onondaga Nation, Beaver Clan. Their respectful approach to dealing with Native governments and communities has opened the door for greater collaborations that will help produce healthier outcomes for our people and our future seven generations. I truly feel they are an international leader in understanding and supporting the power of indigenous people, approaches, and perspectives. Dr. Haring is a great Ambassador for Roswell and is also an international indigenous leader in his field. We are so lucky to have this center here serving our people.”
“I am incredibly thrilled to witness the remarkable growth of the Department of Indigenous Cancer Health at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, as a member of both the Roswell Park Community Advisory Board and the Department of Indigenous Cancer Health Community Advisory Board, it is great to see this cutting-edge work being done at one of the Nation’s preeminent cancer centers — upholding the values of Indigenous knowledge, sovereignty and environmental respect through community-driven and diverse partnerships, research and education, all in the pursuit of diminishing the impact of cancer inequities on communities underserved & worldwide,” says Rory Wheeler, a citizen of the Seneca Nation, Turtle Clan, and descendant of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, who has been an active community organizer, volunteer, advisor and leader.
The framework of the newly aligned and expanded department brings new opportunities for collaboration both within and outside of Roswell Park, Dr. Haring notes.
“When we bring health, education and research to our communities, our Tribal, regional and academic partners see that it’s in the context of a government-to-government-to cancer center relationship,” he says. “We approach our work with great respect and a sense of responsibility to our communities, our environment, and to the generations that will follow us.”
For more on the new Department of Indigenous Cancer Health at Roswell Park, its team and its work, go to: roswellpark.org/indigenous.
From the world’s first chemotherapy research to the PSA prostate cancer biomarker, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center generates innovations that shape how cancer is detected, treated and prevented worldwide. Driven to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity, the Roswell Park team of 4,000 makes compassionate, patient-centered cancer care and services accessible across New York State and beyond. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park was among the first three cancer centers nationwide to become a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and is the only one to hold this designation in Upstate New York. To learn more about Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Roswell Park Care Network, visit http://www.roswellpark.org, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email [email protected].
Rebecca Vogt, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, 7165480482, [email protected], roswellpark.org
SOURCE Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center