Since Time Immemorial is a recurring series featuring community members whose families have been here since time immemorial. The ancestral knowledge carried by Lhaq’temish (Lummi), Nooksack, and other Coast Salish peoples is knowledge about how to live in our shared home in a good, life-sustaining way. We live in a time when we need to restore our relationship with Mother Earth and with one another. We are grateful for these stories, told in the words of each featured individual.

 Dr. Dakotah Lane is the executive medical director of the Lummi Tribal Health Center. 

Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about how you got to be where you are today?

 My name is Dakotah Lane, my Indian Name is Me-Musia given to me by my late grandparents Vernon and Nancy Lane. My parents are Galen Lane and Lydia Bennett. My dad is Lummi, my mom is white. Growing up, I went to school in Bellingham and spent summers out at Lummi fishing with my dad and working at my grandparents’ fireworks stand. My grandparents always told me that I had to go get educated and then come back and serve our community.

How did you come to medicine?

 I graduated with an electrical engineering degree from UW and worked for a while in that field, but eventually realized that the corporate engineering world was not where I belonged. I needed to come back to my tribe but I didn’t know how I could do that with the degree I had. I wanted to learn more about community engagement, so I joined the Peace Corps as a teacher and worked in Malawi, Africa. 

I still have the letter I wrote to my mom when I was sitting on the doorstep of my house at Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi, and I was asking myself, “Well, what am I going to do when I get back?” I had narrowed it down to three things: American Indian studies, law, or medical school. I just couldn’t see myself writing and reading papers all day long, so I settled on the medical degree because I could still do science, and I would also get the social, community engagement part. 

After my studies, I came home with my wife and children in 2016. I was a regular physician at Lummi Tribal Health Clinic, and in 2018 I became the executive medical director of Lummi Health. Then the pandemic hit… 

Lummi was such a leader in the pandemic. I remember you had tests before the rest of the country was even noticing the virus.

 In January of 2020, the first positive COVID case in the U.S. was in Seattle. It was so close to us. My director of public health, Dr. Cristina Toledo, and I knew we had to act but all we knew back then was that the virus appeared to spread really quickly and was very contagious. On the recommendations of Dr. Toledo we decided that we would treat COVID transmission as if it were measles, which is also an extremely contagious airborne virus. Cristina immediately placed the first order for PPE. I went to our lab to figure out what type of testing equipment we would need. One of the key components at that time was a specific viral media. We then reached out to our vendor, who told us that they only had 300 vials of media left. We bought them all.

You also established clear public health protocols right away and offered treatments as soon as they became available.

 Everybody is somehow related or connected at Lummi, so we took the pandemic very personally, very seriously. We only had five deaths due to COVID on the reservation. Two of them were before we had vaccines and treatments, three of them were people who had declined vaccines and declined any interventions from our clinic. I think anybody who engaged with our clinic after we had treatments and vaccines lived.

Was there a teaching that helped get you through that hard time?

 Probably about a year into the pandemic, after we’d had a few deaths, we were all burnt out. My colleague, Dr. Toledo, probably worked 120 hours a week for two years straight and reached a point where she just couldn’t do it anymore; she ended up resigning. I’d been working 100-plus hours as well and was feeling defeated. My aunty Penny Carol brought some fish soup to work, and noticed I was feeling down. She then shared the words of her mother, Violet Hillaire, who built this clinic in 1978: “God won’t put these barriers in front of you if He didn’t think you could get through it.” I clung to that every time I was faced with what appeared to be an insurmountable challenge.

How do you spend your days now? 

The pandemic supercharged everything. The public health infrastructure that we had to build is really setting us up for the 21st century. We’re moving into a new 50,000 squarefoot medical facility sometime this summer. We upgraded to an electronic health record system that’s integrated with PeaceHealth and UW. We’re able to provide much better care across the board: adult medical, pediatrics, psychiatry, behavioral health, physical therapy, and dental. We had over 37,000 patient visits last year, which works out to be about three patients per minute. We’re really expanding our pharmacy, which went from 250 scripts per day to 400 and sometimes 500 scripts a day.

You’ve got all this intense work that you do. How do you recharge?

 I have three kids and a wonderful wife who keep me grounded. I’ve coached my daughter’s and son’s soccer teams in the past, which is a lot of fun. I usually train for a triathlon or half-marathons. And if I had a day off to do absolutely nothing, I would play video games! 

About the Writer:

Julie Trimingham is grateful to make her home on traditional Lhaq’temish territory, and to work for the Sacred Lands Conservancy (, an Indigenous-led 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the life, culture, and sanctity of the Salish Sea. 

"Everybody is somehow related or connected at Lummi, so we took the pandemic very personally, very seriously. - Dr. Dakotah Lane, executive medical director of the Lummi Tribal Health Center"