Mäori & Public Health:

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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. The moment you do that you situate the Päkehä
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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

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 scientific knowledge aimed at restoring and protecting the public’s health while respecting individual autonomy’.

Public health therefore begins with the acquisition and application of, in Coughlin’s view, ‘scientific knowledge’. If this knowledge does not represent the ‘truth’ about indigenous peoples then the restoration and protection of the Public Health of indigenous peoples is in jeopardy. Debates about the nature of knowledge and the search for truth so as to improve our conditions have raged since time immemorial and
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