Symposium integrates native and traditional wisdom with Western approaches

WOMEN AS THE FIRST ENVIRONMENT: Midwife and activist Katsi Cook of the Mohawk tribe will deliver the keynote address at this year's Rooted in the Mountains Symposium, an interdisciplinary forum where ethnography, literature, art, music, native and Western science converge. Photo courtesy of event organizers

As the Rooted in the Mountains Symposium at Western Carolina University gets ready for its ninth annual interdisciplinary forum, WCU faculty member and conference organizer Lisa Lefler reflects that much of the inspiration for creating the event came from her late mother, Jean Nations Lefler.

“Mother considered herself an Appalachian woman,” Lefler says. “She was very knowledgeable about plants. She was of the ilk that whatever ailed you could be found a cure in the mountains here with plants. And she saw plant foods as medicine as well.”

Lefler’s mother shared her interest in “mountain stuff  — being outside and all that,” with Cherokee elder Tom Belt, who often visited the family’s home. Belt and other members of the Cherokee community have helped guide the symposium from the beginning, Lefler says, and Belt will speak again this year, along with native people from various tribes.

That the conference was born of the interest of two women is particularly apt this year, since Katsi Cook of the Mohawk tribe will deliver a keynote address titled “Women as the First Environment.” Writing in Indian Country Today in 2003, Cook explained, “We are privileged to be the doorway to life. At the breast of women, the generations are nourished and sustained. From the bodies of women flow the relationship of those generations both to society and to the natural world. In this way is the earth our mother, the old people said. In this way, we as women are earth.”

Since all people come from women, Lefler notes, women’s health care, safety and reproductive rights are of central importance in any discussion of health and well-being. Panels on the first day of the conference, Thursday, Sept. 27, will address language and women’s health, Cherokee women’s efforts to choose a path of healing and violence against native women.

On Friday, Sept. 28, a lineup of native speakers will present research findings on heart health among native populations, stories of recovery from heart attack, information on the health impacts of aging among native people and a report on mindfulness-based stress reduction practices for native communities.

While Western thinking puts local and traditional knowledge into a different silo than considerations of health and the environment, Lefler says, symposia like Rooted in the Mountains break down the divisions between those categories, revealing their underlying unity. She hopes that anyone who chooses to attend will leave with a greater awareness that “all of these things are very much connected, and they affect us all.”

The Rooted in the Mountains Conference will take place Thursday, Sept. 27, and Friday, Sept. 28, at the Blue Ridge Conference Room at WCU. More information and registration at Tickets are $75; free for tribal elders and WCU faculty and students.

Other conferences and events

  • The Caregiver Education and Resource Summit is for families and professional caregivers of those with dementia. The free event, held in collaboration with several local partners, will take place Friday, Sept. 21, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Grace Ridge Retirement Community, 500 Lenoir Road, Morganton. Four nursing CEUs are available. Registration at or by calling Caron Tucker at 828-466-0466 x3217 or Charity Elliot at 828-580-8327.
  • 24th annual Reflections Symposium on Child Abuse and Neglect will be presented by the Children’s Advocacy Centers of North Carolina at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center Tuesday-Thursday, Sept. 25-27. The conference offers multidisciplinary training for law enforcement, medical professionals, prosecutors and other disciplines involved with the investigation, evaluation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse. More information at
  • Pardee UNC Health Care will continue “Cancer Conversations,” a monthly educational webinar series, on Friday, Sept. 28, noon-1 p.m. in Pardee’s Video Conference Room, located at 800 N. Justice St., Hendersonville. This month’s topic is “Advance Directives: Who is your Healthcare Champion?” The program is free and open to the public. Register by emailing or calling 828-696-1341.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association – Western Carolina Chapter will offer The Confident Caregiver education workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Fletcher Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 1141 Howard Gap Road. The free half-day workshop will present strategies for caregivers of those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Registration suggested at or 800-272-3900.

On the move

  • Dr. Teresa Herbert was appointed chief medical officer for Park Ridge Health, where she has cared for patients for nearly 20 years.

    TOP DOC: Dr. Teresa Herbert was named chief medical officer for Park Ridge Health. Photo courtesy of Park Ridge Health
  • Amy Joy Lanou was appointed the new executive director of the North Carolina Center for Health & Wellness at UNC Asheville. NCCHW works statewide to impact policy, build capacity and create health initiatives through community partners providing wellness programs and education. A professor who has served on the faculty for 13 years, Lanou will continue to teach courses, do research and chair the university’s Department of Health and Wellness, in addition to leading NCCHW.
  • Dr. Thomas Hooker, a board-certified pulmonologist and sleep medicine physician, has joined Carolina Lung and Sleep in Hendersonville.
  • Dr. Lateef Cannon, a family medicine physician, has joined Pardee Family Medicine Associates in Hendersonville.

Mission Health named one of nation’s top hospitals

Mission Hospital has been recognized as one of the top hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its 2018-2019 edition of Best Hospitals. Mission was one of only the 29 hospitals, less than 1 percent of the hospitals evaluated, that got the top rating in all nine procedures and conditions. Mission Hospital was the only hospital in North Carolina or South Carolina to receive this recognition.

As part of its Best Hospitals rankings and ratings, U.S. News evaluated more than 4,500 hospitals from across the nation for their handling of nine important and common clinical conditions: two chronic illnesses – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart failure – and seven surgical procedures: colon cancer surgery, lung cancer surgery, heart bypass surgery, aortic valve surgery, abdominal aortic aneurysm repair and knee or replacement hip replacement.


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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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