Mäori & Public Health: Ethics
A discussion paper
Being asked to write a paper on Mäori perspectives on Public Health ethics raises issues for me. Some years ago my research colleagues and I invited Moana Jackson to participate in a project on genetic engineering. Our first question for him was along the lines of whether Mäori had a ‘unique perspective’ on genetic engineering. It was then that we received our lesson about the use of the word ‘perspective’ (Cram, Pihama & Philip-Barbara, 2000:66-67). Moana said that,
‘The word perspective to me is interesting. It assumes that there is something that is a given upon which Mäori can be expected to have a valid point of ...view middle of the document...
My disclaimer then, as now, lies in the words of Eber Hampton (1988) who says of his own work, ‘My hope is that the reader will think along with me and will take what is useful and leave the rest’.
The complicity of researchers and the policies and practices that research findings have justified in the colonisation of Aotearoa has been well-documented in many theses, articles and books on Mäori, research, colonisation and ethics (for example, Linda Smith, 1999; Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, 1991). This situation is not unique to Aotearoa and to Mäori; across the globe indigenous peoples have protested about being over-researched by people who are alien to them and their communities, with the outcomes of this research too often being ‘misguided and harmful’ (Marlene Brant Castellano, 2004). Indigenous peoples are now justifiably both weary and wary of research and its outcomes (McNeill, Macklin, Wasunna & Komesaroff, 2005).
Marlene Brant Castellano (2004:98), for example, describes the howls of protest and the scepticism from indigenous peoples in Canada during the 1992 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples’ workshop to establish a research agenda. Like many workshops and hui in Aotearoa throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and often even into the present day, people’s experiences of research gave them no reason to believe that it could serve their communities well. In Canada in 1992, the cry that they had been ‘researched to death’ was met by the quietly spoken words of an Elder;
‘If we have been researched to death, maybe it’s time we started researching ourselves back to life’.
On this pathway ‘back to life’ indigenous peoples now ask and expect more of those who come to find out about, and possibly ‘do good’, for their communities. Some of the first responses to these expectations were made by non-indigenous researchers who embedded notions such as respect and cultural competence into their disciplinary codes of ethics (Te Awekotuku, 1991). Codes of good practice for indigenous research were also produced by agencies such as the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the World Health Organisation (HRC, 1998; WHO, 2003).
Indigenous communities also produced their own codes of conduct for those wanting to work alongside them on research (e.g., Akwesasne Good Mind Research Protocol; Mi’kmaw Research Principals and Protocols). These codes speak of indigenous people’s rights to protect their culture and knowledge with these rights, in turn, underpinning the insistence of indigenous peoples that they are the arbiters of how they are researched and represented. Only then can their cultural maintenance and revitalisation be assured (Brant Castellano, 2004).
Public health carries dual accountabilities of finding out and taking action. As Steven Coughlin (2006) notes,
‘Ethical concerns in Public Health often relate to the dual obligations of Public Health professionals to acquire and apply...