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With Herb Garden, Tribal Doctor Meshes Old Ways and New

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CARNATION -- Over the rising noise of late afternoon traffic out front, Terry Maresca said goodbye to her last patient and walked to the garden out back.

It is a place of thick, raised beds of soil and compost, most still empty and half formed inside a fence of cedar planks.

"It will be finished on Indian time," she said, "when it is done."

Her salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a bun, a thin pair of glasses on her nose, Theresa Maresca, M.D., is a 44-year-old Mohawk Indian, Brooklyn-born, Vassar-educated, classically trained in Western medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, and hip to the history, traditions and prospects of native therapies and the plants used in them.

She is growing a few here, and intends to share what she knows.

"This is a community garden," she said, "and what's here and what you do with it needs to be accessible, not someone's special knowledge. Our mission is to teach."

Maresca is a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Washington who also oversees a residency program for the Seattle Indian Health Board.

Mostly on Wednesdays, she tends patients here at the Tolt Community Clinic, a squat, gray structure on the east side of Tolt Avenue opposite a shopping strip and the sign that points to QFC.

The clinic isn't new to Carnation. But after Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland quit supporting it last year, the Snoqualmie Tribe stepped in, flush with confidence following federal recognition four years ago.

Medical attention is available here to Indians and non-Indians alike. It is a business-smart arrangement common to other Native American health clinics, said Matthew Mattson, the tribe's administrator.

The federal Indian Health Service pays the bill for Native Americans, while third-party insurance programs such as Blue Cross also are welcome.

More important to Snoqualmie tribal elders such as Elsie Erickson, however, is the spirit of inclusiveness.

"We've run our food bank the same way for years," she said. "Doesn't matter who you are."

Erickson is the health clinic's receptionist and an elected member of a tribal council that, from its traditional cultural and political home in Carnation, once commanded territory from the summit of Snoqualmie Pass west to Whidbey Island, and from Mount Vernon south to Chehalis.

The 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott ended that control and pushed the Snoqualmies to reservations set aside for other tribes. But the Snoqualmie Indians persevered through the decades and were granted federal recognition in 1999.

"Finally we weren't Irish or English or from Mexico or Spain or the Middle East," Erickson said. "We were from here, the Snoqualmie Valley, and we were recognized for who we really are -- Snoqualmie Indians."

Of the estimated 1,200 who could become members of the tribe today, just 431 adults and 200 children are enrolled -- and eligible for medical coverage under the Indian Health Service at Native American clinics like this one and its sister clinic in North Bend.

But here is where the garden grows.

"I kind of believe some of us find it unifying," Erickson said. "It's going back to the basics, back to the knowledge my grandmother had. We've been urban Indians for such a long time and didn't have access to Indian doctors -- or to a medicine woman.

"Now we have one."

Maresca stooped to brush the broad leaf of a common plantain growing in one corner of the garden. Discover one of these suckers in your lawn and you may be moved to squirt it with a weed killer.

Dr. Maresca won't. Instead, she'll pluck a leaf, chop and dice it thoroughly, and mix it with maybe a little olive oil or cocoa butter, "even bear grease if I've got it," the better to prepare a salve to soothe such skin rashes as eczema.

There is a lemon verbena to brew as a tea, and a sugar plant from Paraguay "200 times sweeter than sugar," she said.

Back against the fence is another broadleaf plant, burdock, a thistlelike creation from the East Coast. Boil it into a tea and use it as a purgative for intestinal complaints, she said.

Grind up the raggedy leaf of achillea millefolium -- yarrow -- and apply it to a wound to stop bleeding, as Achilles did.

Also near the back fence is the gangly, awkward hypericum perfoliatum, the wild St. John's wort, a noxious weed by King County standards and found "all along the roads out there," Maresca said. When stewed as a tea, it is the now-familiar herbal remedy for depression.

When the garden is complete, its plants will be divided into four categories -- one for birth and pregnancy, another to treat children, a third for adults and the last for elders.

At the south end will be a garden separate from the rest and dedicated to the memory of Dwenar Forgue, "Grand- mother Forgue," who died in 1983 and was among the Snoqualmies' last herbalists.

"Everyone remembers her a little differently," Maresca said.

"So in her garden there will be a little of everything she represented -- rhodies and azaleas, native roses, and a little replica of Snoqualmie Falls."

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