Rooted in the Mountains conference will integrate Western and Cherokee ideas

Image courtesy of Rooted in the Mountains
Image courtesy of Rooted in the Mountains

In the Cherokee language, “duyuk’ dv’ I” means “The Right Way,” but it’s not about fundamentalism or supremacy. Rather, “duyuk’ dv’ I” is a philosophy of holism: Seek the path that completes you, and find yourself in relationship with the land, your community and yourself. The upcoming environmental conference “Rooted in the Mountains” is organized around this very principle, and weaves together Western and native perspectives on health and ecology. In its focus on place-based spirituality, the conference promises a fresh look at environmentalism in Western North Carolina.

“Rooted in the Mountains,” now in its eighth year, will take place at Western Carolina University on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29, and includes a trip to the sacred site of Kituwah, the Cherokee “mother town.” No dualism here: Cherokee blessings and academic lectures will occur in the very same room.

“Western and traditional knowledge dovetail beautifully, complement one another,” says Lisa Lefler, an organizer of the conference and director of the Center for Native Health, a local nonprofit that promotes Cherokee language, medicine and education programs.

“We’re all people of the mountains, we all live together here, we all have to share resources,” Leftler says. “If we’re all on the same page, then we can work together to preserve and conserve — to take care of the planet together.”

For years, “Rooted in the Mountains” has fostered such dialogue between the people of Appalachia, both native and nonnative. Once, when the conference highlighted the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and the sanctity of water in the Cherokee worldview, local novelist Ron Rash spoke to role that water played in his own life. Another time, Madison County singer Sheila Kay Adams enthralled participants with stories and old ballads.

This year, the keynote speaker is Dr. Joe Gone, professor of psychology and American culture at the University of Michigan. Gone, a member of Montana’s Gros Ventre nation, will argue that traditional medicine and ideologies can bring healing to native communities.

Other speakers include Cherokee academics and elders, Smithsonian researchers, scientists with the National Institutes of Health, and educators from multiple universities.

According to Lefler, the lectures drive toward a central aim: to use Western and Native tools to integrate oneself into the natural world.

“Rooted in the Mountains: Valuing Our Common Ground” will take place at the Blue Ridge Conference Room of WCU in Cullowhee on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. The conference is open to the public; register online at rootedinthemtns.wcu.edu. Free for students and Tribal Elders, $75 for all others. 

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