Rooted in the Mountains speaker talks on mental health issues

Dr. Gone speaks about myths within his native tribe and how they have impacted his studies in psychology and mental health among Native Americans during the “Rooted in the Mountains” symposium on Sept. 28, 2017. Photo by Hailee McCraw

Western Carolina University hosted it’s annual “Rooted in the Mountains” symposium. This year was themed “The Correct Way” connecting worldview of both Southern Appalachia and the Native Americans.

Faculty, students and community members gathered on Sept. 28 to hear Dr. Joseph Gone, a national expert in American Indian psychology and mental health, present as a key speaker in the two-day symposium addressing traditional and local knowledge of environmental health issues including: poverty and high-risk settings within communities.

Gone, an enrolled member of the Gros Ventre tribal nation of Montana and professor of psychology and Native American studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, shared his views and suggestions for moving towards a psychology that is more diverse and inclusive. His presentation was titled, “The Thing Happened as He Wished- Recovering Indigenous Knowledge Traditions for Rethinking Mental Health.”

“I think when we are talking about indigenous knowledge today, we are talking about hybrid forms of knowing,” said Gone after emphasizing the importance of educating ourselves on indigenous knowledge and culture.

Through personal anecdotes and educational expertise, Gone, among the other featured speakers, aimed to leave the audience with a profound call-to-action on environmental health issues and most importantly provide resources on how to better value our common ground. It was clear that Gone felt an urgent need in expanding the views we have of psychology today as culture influences the mind.

“I sat through the symposium for three hours and although some things were completely over my head, I found it really interesting how Dr. Gone related his family’s past to his studies in psychology,” said Silas Shields, a senior studying Appalachian Literature at WCU.

From his Native American heritage, Gone told war stories he learned as a child and how he directly related them to his studies of cultural psychology. He spoke about how song was a common tool used in therapeutic work because song is spiritual, sacred and a key part of ceremonial events.

The symposium featured 14 speakers with varying fields of studies on the topic. Aside from presentations, the symposium also included a field trip to Kituwah, a sacred Cherokee town, a museum tour and a reception. This year’s event was held in memory of Jean Nations Lefler and Dale Nations, two beloved mountain residents of Jackson County, NC.