Federal, regional, state and local leaders gathered with the Puyallup Tribal Council on April 7 to officially cut the ribbon on the tribe’s new state-of-the-art Salish Integrative Oncology Cancer Center (SIOCC). The center, located in the tribal-owned Trans Pacific building in Fife, will start receiving patients on April 13.
The grand opening event welcomed guest speakers Governor Jay Inslee, Senator Maria Cantwell, former Congressman Norm Dicks and Congressman Denny Heck. Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer were unable to attend the event and sent representatives bearing letters of congratulations. Others in attendance included Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, members of Tacoma and Pierce County Councils, Fife Mayor Tim Curtis, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, Pierce County Detective Ed Troyer and former Tacoma City Council Member John Ladenburg, among others.
Speaking to a packed house at the center, Inslee praised Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud and the entire Tribal Council for their vision to open the first cancer care clinic in the United States owned by an Indian tribe.
“This is such a delightful day, not just for the Puyallup Nation but for the state of Washington because this is a center that is going to embrace health for the entire state of Washington and the Puyallup Nation all at the same time,” he said. “To me it is a real achievement to know that the first tribally owned and operated oncology center in the United States is right here in the Puyallup Nation. This is something for the whole state of Washington to be very proud of.”
Dicks called it “a historic day.”
“The Tribe’s investment in the oncology center is both unique and groundbreaking in tribal country,” he said. “The care that hundreds of tribal and non-tribal cancer patients will receive at the facility will be second to none. This facility has some of the best oncologists, naturopaths, acupuncturists and skilled nurses in the region.”
The 8,200-square-foot cancer center will be staffed by board-certified medical oncologists and naturopathic oncologists, as well as natural cancer care and complimentary cancer care practitioners who believe that natural healing through lifestyle, nutrition, and botanical medicines – including naturopathy, acupuncture/Chinese medicine and Native American treatments – can blend with traditional healing to create a truly modern oncology practice.
David Bean likened the cancer center to the Seahawks – another kind of “warrior” – and this is also reflected in the center’s signature colors of blue and green.
“Cancer has affected all of us at one time or another. It doesn’t care if you’re young or old, it doesn’t discriminate on race – it attacks everybody. This center represents healing in a traditional sense as well as another ‘warrior’ in the fight against cancer.”
The Tribe pursued its interest in developing the cancer treatment center after visiting and consulting with some established facilities. Because Cancer Treatment Centers of America plans to close the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center, a clinic it operates in Renton, the Tribe negotiated an agreement with Cancer Treatment Centers of America to clear the way for the tribe to hire some of the doctors and other providers employed by SCTWC and to invite that clinic’s patients to receive their treatment at the tribe’s clinic.
“This isn’t just about chemotherapy and radiation. This is about treating the whole person with whatever ways that heal not only their body but their spirit and that’s an incredible thing to do in this day and age,” Heck said. “It is a wonderful thing and it makes me so happy to be here.”
Dr. Alan Shelton, clinical director for the tribe’s Puyallup Tribal Health Authority, said the tribe taught him that true healing involves the body and spirit. “The incorporation of integrative medicine is huge because the ancient wisdom of tribal people is what’s necessary to save the modern world. That’s the beautiful opportunity we have with this new integrative care model, to bring it onto tribal land and invite spirit and traditional healers to be part of the whole treatment for our patients.”
The ribbon-cutting event began with the Puyallup Tribal Veterans Color Guard presenting the colors, then tribal member David Duenas offered up a Sundance song of sacrifice and honor. Puyallup Tribal Culture Director Connie McCloud gave an overview of the tribe’s traditions of healing through the spirit and the natural remedies supplied by the earth. “One of the first medicines of our people was our plants,” she said. The words she spoke brought the Puyallup culture into these modern times, saying that Puyallup ways aren’t of yesterday but also of today, alive and well and part of every tribal member’s fabric of life that they will now share to help others.
“Today we celebrate that tradition,” McCloud said, noting that earlier that day traditional medicine healer and esteemed elder Isadore Tom Jr. went through the building to cleanse it and bless it for those who would come there in the future seeking treatment. “We celebrate that way of life because it still exists as a way of life. It is a part of who we are yet today. So this celebration today also comes with a cleansing and a welcoming for all of you that are here today.”
Puyallup tribal ancestors were honored beautifully during the event. Heck and Inslee spoke of the late Puyallup Chairman Herman Dillon Sr. “When I think of the late Chairman Dillon’s leadership of the Puyallups, I think of how many times he extended the house of health, the house of social justice and the house of integrity to the Puyallups and the larger community here in the wider state,” Inslee said. “It’s really great to see that his legacy is now continuing to reach fruition a year after his passing.”
Marjorie Matheson, part of the SIOCC executive committee, told of her father and Tribal Chairman Don Matheson. “My dad used to say ‘it’s not the wealth of an individual that makes them a great person, it’s the ability to take care of others where a person finds greatness.’ And he would call that being a true chief.”
Much gratitude was expressed for Chairman Sterud’s commitment to leading the Tribal Council in seeing the center become a reality. “It was his vision that you’re seeing materialize here, that we’re all seeing, and his wish, as all the Tribal Council, to make a difference for those suffering and in need of healing of cancer,” Matheson said.
Sterud said he was deeply touched by those he has met along the way on his journey in helping to establish the center. “People I’d never seen before would come up to me and thank me, and in their eyes you could see what they’ve been through, whether it’s them or their family or their friends, but somehow they were all a part of that horror of cancer. And so this whole thing changed for me. This is big, and it’s such an honor for the Puyallup Tribe to be a part of it. I bow my head to it.”
Sterud talked of the research arm of the center and its potential to do great things. “It’s a battle against this disease, only now our warriors are our doctors, nurses, lab technicians and people who are in the health profession world. Our warriors are going to be armed with the best medicine that can be, whether it exists now or down the road. This is not about making money – this is a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to the saving of lives, and hopefully we can all work together to make that happen.”
“(The Puyallup Tribe) is a group who really understands how we’re all in this together and you are now building an oncology center that can save lives altogether,” Inslee said. “When it comes to our health needs it’s all individual, but when it comes to our healthcare solutions, it truly needs to be communal and there’s been no more communally successful operation than what you’re doing right here.”
As the final speaker for the day, Cantwell vowed to be part of helping the center be all it can be through her work in Congress. “I’m going to do my part in Washington, D.C. by making sure we support the Teaching Health Center’s Graduate Medical Education Program so we can get more people here because we need more graduate medical education in primary care in underserved areas.”
To close the event, tribal member Charlene Matheson, also part of the center’s executive committee, led the giving of hand-beaded stethoscopes and lanyards to welcome staff from the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center in Renton.