Smithsonian work group meeting at WCU April 8-10

Native American scholars and activists from around the nation will gather with representatives of the Smithsonian Institution and several federal agencies for a three-day conference at Western Carolina University to discuss issues related to Native health and culture.

The meeting of the Smithsonian Institution’s Native Health and Culture Work Group will be held Wednesday, April 8, through Friday, April 10, at WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building.

Lisa Lefler

Lisa Lefler

Lisa Lefler, a medical anthropologist and director of Culturally Based Native Health Programs at WCU, is the local organizer for the event. The conference is a follow-up to a spring 2014 work group meeting that was held at the National Museum of the American Indian, which is part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Lefler attended that gathering, along with Tom Belt, coordinator of WCU’s Cherokee Language Program, who gave a presentation on “Prayer and the Spiritual in Health Ways.”

The Washington meeting attracted a core group of individuals from around the nation who are working on various Native issues such as health, language and environmental concerns, Lefler said. Smithsonian officials asked if WCU could host the gathering this year, and a group of co-sponsors joined together to make it possible, including the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, the American Philosophical Society, the Center for Native Health, and WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences and College of Arts and Sciences.

Tom Belt

Tom Belt

Presentations planned for the meeting at WCU will touch on a wide variety of Native American issues, including women’s and children’s health, food sovereignty and sacred texts, but a particular focus of discussion will be issues related to conducting health and cultural research in Indian country, Lefler said. Also, three presentations scheduled for 1 to 5 p.m. on April 10 will be streamed live on the Internet to a worldwide audience by the Smithsonian.

Among the presenters with connections to WCU, in addition to Lefler and Belt, are Hartwell Francis, director of WCU’s Cherokee Language Program, and Tom Hatley, who formerly served as the university’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies. Presenters from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will include Onita Bush, a home health provider for the tribe, fluent speaker of the Cherokee language and elder; Tommy Cabe, the tribe’s forest resource specialist; Myrtle Driver, one of only two living Cherokee “Beloved Women”; T.J. Holland, cultural resource officer for the Eastern Band; and Lou Jackson, a fluent speaker of Cherokee and retired registered nurse who worked for the tribal health system.

Hartwell Francis

Hartwell Francis

Day one of the gathering will begin with a welcome song and Cherokee anthem by Paula Nelson of the Eastern Band; a veteran prayer song by Greg Leading Fox of the Pawnee Nation; a prayer by Tom Belt, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma; and welcome remarks from Alison Morrison-Shetlar, WCU provost, and Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band.

Federal agencies that will be represented at the meeting are the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the Indian Health Service.

Presentations will be held in Room 204 of WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. all three days of the conference. The registration deadline for participation in meals has passed, but registration for presentations and discussions is open through Friday, April 3, at nativehealthconference.wcu.edu (link no longer active). An agenda also is available at the website.

For more information, contact Lisa Lefler at 828-227-2164 or llefler@wcu.edu.