Some will say that wellbeing is determined by your own actions, that you alone are responsible for being healthy; while others believe that this responsibility rests with your whānau unit, or perhaps within your local community. Then we have those that believe that individual health is a wider social responsibility, and that law and social policies should ensure healthy individuals. As you can see, when we talk about who is responsible for enabling individuals to be well and healthy, there is a wide spectrum of beliefs and opinions. So, who is then responsible for Māori health? Is it an individual’s duty to manage their own health, or does it rest with the Nation?
At the moment, the responsibility for ensuring my health, at least in my opinion, sits in my hands. I give credit to my tūpuna for providing me the blueprint to be healthy, however, I challenge the state of our modern environment to support my whakapapa and enable health to manifest naturally. We have created a world that favours unhealthy situations as the default choice. Physical activity is negatively impacted by our use of transport and technology. Healthy kai is dominated by poor food choices thanks to intelligent marketing, and corporate profits that threaten to bankrupt governments that resist. Because of these and many other challenges that face our nation’s ability to reinforce healthy options, as Māori, I believe we have an obligation to actively ensure our personal wellbeing and that of our community. However, we must continue to push and support the nation to provide positive population health outcomes over all else. As the saying goes;
He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
What is the greatest thing in the world
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.
Traditional Māori communal lifestyles simplified the pursuit of wellness for most. The old way of life seemed to support natural health outcomes. Community living ensured that we all 'chipped-in', lifestyles were active and food was natural. However, the cornerstone of our communities relied on great leadership. This begs the question, who leads you in terms of your health?
Traditional Māori leadership is a complex system when we look at it from a contemporary perspective. But to break it down a little, there were two fundamental leaders in traditional Māori society; there were the Ariki or Rangatira class, and the Tohunga class. The leadership from the ariki or rangatira grew primarily out of strong genealogical ties, but also included the development of kinship ties, alliances with other tribes, specialist knowledge (mātauranga), and other personal qualities. While the leadership through the tohunga class was attributed to their ritual or professional expertise, a skill set that was rare and held by only a select few.
Whakapapa played a significant role in determining their roles and responsibilities. Basically, their knowledge, skill and experience were critical for the wellbeing of their people. But personal wellbeing did not remain solely with them. From a communal perspective, everyone contributed to the wellness of the tribe. The guiding philosophy of the hapū (tribe) was formed through a long-developed 'code' believed to descend from the knowledge Tāne retrieved in the three baskets of knowledge. The challenge faced by Māori today is that modern society has largely deconstructed this traditional Māori lifestyle, and subsequently devalued traditional Māori leadership styles.
The philosophy that governs our modern communities stem from a non-Māori perspective, implemented by a system that fails to reflect a Māori worldview. In order to restore the dreams and aspirations of Māori the system must compliment a Māori outlook. As a nation, we have failed to utilise our knowledge, skill, and experience for the wellbeing of Māori. Māori continue to over-represent in poor health statistics, a natural reflection on the way our whakapapa responds to the world we now live in. In my view, to change this, a voice to communicate Māori values, aspirations and principles must contribute to the system that moulds the communities we live in. We are fortunate in Aotearoa to have a process that enables us to choose who our voice will be; it happens every three years and that is our General Election. If you fail to choose your voice, your leader, or someone that represents your views, then you may well be failing to ensure your own wellbeing. To put it plainly, if you do not vote, you may be unknowingly contributing to the marginalisation of whakapapa.
To come back to my opening question, “who is responsible for ensuring your wellbeing?” I feel drawn back to an adaptation of that earlier whakatauākī;
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata, he tangata, tangata.
What has the greatest influence on my wellbeing?
It is me, it is you, it is all of us.