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Rooted in the Mountains to examine attitudes about environment

Western Carolina University will host the 10th annual Rooted in the Mountains symposium, designed to integrate indigenous and local knowledge with health and environmental issues, in the conference room of Blue Ridge Hall on Thursday, Sept. 26, and Friday, Sept. 27.

The symposium is an interdisciplinary forum with topics including ethnography, literature, art, music and native and western science. This year’s theme is “Giduwagi ― Appalachian Historical Ecology,” reflecting both the changing landscape and habitat of the mountains and attitudes toward the environment.

Tom Belt

The keynote speaker will be Tom Belt, retired coordinator of WCU’s program in Cherokee language and noted for his knowledge and insights into Native American heritage and culture. Belt recently received the Community Leadership Individual Award presented by the Cherokee Nation, given to recognize citizens who have tirelessly given, without hesitation, their time to make their communities more vibrant livable places.

Several panel discussions are planned for the first day. In the morning, “Geology and Biogeography” will be led by Jim Costa, executive director of the Highlands Biological Station and a WCU professor of biology; Cheryl Waters-Tormey, WCU associate professor of geology; and Dan Pittillo, local naturalist and retired WCU professor of biology. The afternoon will feature “The Mountains are the Heart of the People” with Turner Goins, WCU’s Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professor of Gerontological Social Work, joined by Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians health and wellness leaders.

Brett Riggs, WCU’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies, and Ben Steere, director of the university’s Cherokee Studies Programs, will speak to Cherokee archaeology and subsistence in the final panel discussion of the day.

The first day will conclude with a native food dinner served by members of the Native America Indian Women’s Association. It is free for those who pre-register for the symposium and $10 for those registering day-of.

The second day will feature presentations, including “Archaeobotanical Approaches to Native Foodways”; a session on Cherokee ethnobotany; “Conservation, Environmental Activism and the Commons”; “Climate Change and Climate Catastrophe Resilience”; and a field trip to Judaculla Rock, a large soapstone boulder that contains some of the most significant petroglyphs east of the Mississippi River. The symposium will conclude with an open discussion led by symposium planners Lisa Lefler, director of WCU’s Culturally Based Native Health Programs, and Jim Veteto, WCU associate professor of anthropology and an ethnobiologist.

The event is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. For more information, contact Pam Myers, event organizer, at 828-227-2893 or

The symposium is open to the public with a $75 registration fee, while tribal elders, students and WCU faculty are admitted free. To pre-register, visit or call 828-227-2164.

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