Indigenous health problems not limited to Canada

28 March 2014

Indigenous health care is a hot-button issue. With stories of scarce resources and frequent but vague statistics in news outlets surrounding health care for Canada’s First Nations, Canadians can easily think that the issues surrounding health care for Indigenous people are our own. These issues and challenges are not uniquely Canadian, a fact highlighted by Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, professor of Education and Māori Development, Pro-Vice Chancellor Māori and Dean of the School of Māori and Pacific Development at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Over a shared lunch on February 27, 2014, Smith led a discussion about issues that impact the health of Indigenous peoples in New Zealand.

After a blessing and acknowledgement of Canada’s First Nations, Smith voiced concerns over the state of Māori health research in New Zealand, where the conservative government hasn’t increased related funding for years. This leaves some research dependent on funding from the general health system – a dependence some Māori researchers are actually focused on reducing.

Smith spoke at length about the health care system in New Zealand, elaborating that Māori people have difficulties engaging with a health care system that sees them as a drain. While effecting change within institutional cultures is a daunting task, it’s one that Smith and others are actively addressing.

As Director of the Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato, she is the principal investigator on the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga Project (which means In pursuit of the possible: Indigenous Wellbeing), and sits on a number of health research committees, including chairing the Māori Health Research Committee, and is President of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. Smith works to ensure that Māori-focused research isn’t lost in the health care system at large, supporting ongoing post-doctoral studies in Māori health by Māori researchers. Easing the transition from academic to professional, Smith also works to help find employment for those researching Māori health upon completion of their studies.

The discussion of the presence of systemic and institutional racism in the health care system toward Māori people was of particular interest to the audience, which included students, Nursing and Medical faculty, clinical instructors, and researchers from all over Toronto. As lunch concluded, many commented that they hadn’t considered how the health care needs of indigenous peoples were met around the world, leaving with a new interest in the important role that dedicated research plays in providing adequate healthcare for all.