Indigenous health promotion- guiding principles for planetary wellbeing
HPF’s Deputy Executive Director Trevor Simpson, one of the principal architects of the Waiora Indigenous Statement reflects on its significance
The Waiora Indigenous Statement adopted at this year’s IUHPE World Conference in Rotorua provided a watershed moment for indigenous health promotion at the global level. It is a call to action which leverages on the assertion that indigenous people’s perspectives, worldviews and human experience informs a “new” way to think about health promotion and by virtue of this, a different perspective on planetary health and human wellbeing.
Of course, health promotion in its current format, largely based on western world views associates human health with the health of the planet. The Ottawa Charter identifies eight prerequisites, the fundamental conditions for health amongst which a stable eco-system and sustainable resources are but two. As broad fields of study these two areas remain vitally important, but it seems odd that planetary health and wellbeing is not specifically addressed within the existing health promotion framework. From observation it is more implied than defined. Further, it is difficult to discern where health promotion makes a clear and concerted effort to think past the Anthropocene, the current focus on an individual, human centred approach to health.
The Waiora Indigenous Statement provides some interesting componentry to help us understand at a fundamental level where indigenous thinking positions itself in the planetary and human wellbeing discussion. As the document rightfully points out, indigenous people and worldviews are diverse. However, when we overlay these aspects of diversity, we can then identify the commonalities which draw indigenous peoples together.
This provides a powerful construct, particularly when we centre on the core features; the interactive relationship between the spiritual and material realms, intergenerational and collective alignments and that the Mother Earth is a living being. It posits that Planet Earth and human beings have a special relationship to each other, one founded on interconnectedness and interdependence. We are therefore in the indigenous perspective, part of nature and not above it.
In a pre-conference discussion with Tamati Kruger, one of the highly acclaimed plenary speakers at this year’s event, he touched on a key principle of the Tuhoe Iwi’s Waitangi claim settlement outcome, principally the section in the Te Urewera Act 2014 in which the Crown (Government of Aotearoa New Zealand) and the Tuhoe people agreed that the Urewera (previously the Urewera National Park) was a “living person”. He suggests that this aspect was an imperative in the settlement negotiations. Without it, it would have been very difficult to reach an agreement.
As a significant precedent in law it is also nevertheless an assertion of world views.
It comes with a necessary proviso of course, duties on both parties: a living person should be cared for and nurtured. Care and nurture have in turn strong elements of responsibility and obligation. Indigenous Tuhoe people, therefore, have no choice but to provide for and nurture their piece of nature and in return have their place and wellbeing secured. As Tamati said in his plenary speech in Rotorua, “the Tuhoe people do not own the Urewera. The Urewera owns itself”.
This indigenous viewpoint leaves much to ponder. It questions our current thinking. It touches on the need for a paradigm shift in the way human beings see themselves in their relationship with this living planet. And it is now urgent.
As a living document we encourage all to endorse, use and critically analyse the Waiora Indigenous Statement. It is an offering for health promoters, policy makers and leaders. An intergenerational gift that seeks to define what health promotion means from an indigenous worldview. It is also a very useful resource to inform the development of health promotion itself- to be part of the actual framework rather than sitting outside it. To be part of a new design for people and planet.
The Waiora Indigenous Statement is a statement for all. It asks that we make space for and privilege indigenous peoples voices and indigenous knowledge in promoting planetary health and wellbeing. It offers a new way of thinking, resetting the course for health promotion and sustainable development. It suggests that if we listen carefully, we just might hear something beautiful and profound. Something to learn, something to embrace. Something for you, me and the generations to come.