Rooted in the Mountains (Cullowhee, NC)

Rooted in the Mountains
Oct 20-21
Western Carolina University

CULLOWHEE – The second annual Rooted in the Mountains symposium at Western Carolina University will be held Thursday, Oct. 20, and Friday, Oct. 21, in the Grandroom of the A.K. Hinds University Center.

The Rooted in the Mountains event was created to raise awareness of the intersection of environmental, health and indigenous issues related to mountain destruction. This year's program includes a 6 p.m. Thursday address by Dennis Martinez (Tohono O'odham/Chicano), a "bio pioneer" and advocate for an indigenous perspective of ecology, and music beginning at 7:30 p.m. by Sheila Kay Adams, a longtime storyteller and performer of traditional Appalachian ballads. Cultural historian Jeff Biggers will start Friday's session with a 9 a.m. keynote address. Biggers, a coal miner's grandson and outspoken critic of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, is the author of nonfiction works "Reckoning at Eagle Creek," "The United States of Appalachia" and "In the Sierra Madre." The symposium also includes a Thursday reception, Friday lunch, academic presentations and a facilitated discussion.

Reduced-rate hotel rooms at the Sylva Inn and the Holiday Inn Express in Dillsboro and an early registration fee of $75 are available through Sunday, Sept. 25. After that, the symposium registration fee rises to $125. The symposium is free to WCU students (or $10 including lunch). The Biggers address, part of WCU's Art and Cultural Events Series, is free to all.

Lisa Lefler, the event's co-organizer, said the Rooted in the Mountains symposium is for individuals interested in Native studies, health and environmental issues. Attendees might include members of the local community, both natives and newcomers; students; policy makers; and health professionals. "Those who are interested in how the continued destruction of mountain landscapes affect us should attend, as well as those who would like to learn more about the intersection of Native ways of understanding with these issues," said Lefler, an anthropologist and director of WCU's Culturally Based Native Health Programs. "This event is for all who are rooted in the mountains and value our common ground."

Lefler organized the inaugural event in honor of her mother, the late Jean Nations Lefler, and her uncle, the late Dale Nations. The siblings were "saddened in their last years about what they perceived as destruction to the mountains," Lefler said. Though only a year old, Rooted in the Mountains is quickly evolving, and three other institutions – Berea College, Appalachian State University and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee – have expressed interest in alternately hosting it.

Lefler also organized an August event on the WCU campus intended to help sharpen the symposium's focus. A panel of Native elders visited WCU to participate in dialogues on "Native science," which respects the natural laws of interdependence, or phrased alternatively, a universal law of interconnectedness. Panel members encouraged those in attendance to shed their personal and career identities and their "tacit infrastructures" – beliefs so ingrained we unconsciously base our paradigms on them without questioning why – so they could examine the connection between health and the environment in new ways.

Dr. Danna Park, medical director for the integrative health care program at Mission Hospital, attended the dialogues. "I found the evolving discussion rich and rewarding and enlightening in ways I had no way of anticipating," Park said. Mission's integrative health care program, a sponsor of the dialogues, offers patients complementary therapies shown to improve patient comfort, including aromatherapy, massage and pet therapy, used in conjunction with regular medical care.

The dialogues broadened Park's concepts of scientific research. In Western science, researchers tend to ask "Does this work?," Park said. "That question – just by the way it's phrased – leaves behind emotional, spiritual, relationship-centered qualities of a treatment," Park said. The Native American worldview might prompt an alternate question of "Why does this work?" "Research methodology is only as good as the question you ask," Park said. "The question can be changed so that we get more dividend back from the research."

Rooted in the Mountains sponsors include WCU's Division of Educational Outreach, Mountain Heritage Center and Cherokee studies program. Community sponsors include the Center for Native Health, Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River, the Canary Coalition, the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee and the Tuckaseegee Community Alliance.

To register for the Rooted in the Mountains symposium, go online to or call WCU's Division of Educational Outreach at 828-227-7397. For additional information about Rooted in the Mountains, contact Lefler at 828-227-2164 or, or contact co-organizer Pamela Duncan in the WCU Department of English at 828-227-3926 or