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Rooted in the Mountains event to focus on women's heart health

Onita Bush, an Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal elder and resident of the Snowbird community, speaks on natural healing at last year's Rooted in the Mountains symposium.

Western Carolina University will host the Rooted in the Mountains symposium, designed to integrate indigenous and local knowledge with health and environmental issues, on Thursday, Sept. 27, and Friday, Sept. 28, in the Blue Ridge Conference Room.

The annual symposium is an interdisciplinary forum where ethnography, literature, art, music and native and western science converge. This year’s theme is “Heart Health, Women’s Health: Rooted in Culture.”

Katsi Cook

Katsi Cook, a mother, midwife, women’s health advocate and environmental activist for the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne in upstate New York, will be the keynote speaker. Cook has been a lecturer in the Department of Environmental Health and Toxicology at the State University of New York, as well as a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s American Indian Program. She currently serves as program director for First Environment Collaborative at Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

The event is open to the public with a $75 registration fee, while tribal elders, students and WCU faculty are admitted free. “For the Cherokee, ‘tohi’ ― health ― is a central concept that impacts every part of our lives,” said Lisa Lefler, director of Culturally Based Native Health Programs in WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. “We hope a broad spectrum of people will come listen and learn with us.”

This year’s theme is especially important, Lefler said, because of the health threats posed by hypertension, a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. It is very common but understudied in native populations.

WCU’s Culturally-Based Native Health Program is collaborating with the Native-Controlling Hypertension And Risk Through Technology project of Washington State University for further research. WCU is home to the Southeast Satellite Center for the project, with funding by the National Institutes of Health.

“We are excited to be partnering with Dr. Lefler this year to add heart health content into the symposium,” said Turner Goins, WCU’s Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professor of Gerontological Social Work. “Understanding heart health in American Indians is of critical importance. High blood pressure, for instance, is more common in American Indians than whites. Also, American Indians experience greater rates of heart disease risk factors such as diabetes, smoking and obesity.”

Conference sponsors are the Center for Native Health Inc. and WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Southeast Satellite Center of the Native-Controlling Hypertension and Risk Through Technology project, College of Health and Human Sciences, Cherokee Studies Program, Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professorship, Sequoyah Distinguished Professorship and Culturally Based Native Health Programs.

To see a complete schedule or to register, visit or call 828-227-2164.

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