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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 model as the truth; and you ask Mäori to give a view on it. I think there are Mäori truths and they exist independently of whatever Päkehä view as reality or truth and to seek a Mäori perspective is to legitimate the Päkehä perspective on the issue. So to ask for a Mäori perspective on say the use of land is to validate the Päkehä concepts of property and seek to fit a Mäori view of that within it. Whereas what we should begin with is: what is the Mäori truth on land and how does that sit alongside, rather then fit within, the Päkehä view?’

Perhaps even more scary than asking whether there is a Mäori ‘perspective’ on Public Health ethics is the thought of asking what the Mäori ‘truth’ about Public Health ethics is. Once again, Moana is able to come to my rescue. A few years ago I was experiencing difficulty writing a paper on Mäori research ethics in the social sciences (Cram (2001). My problem was the ‘truth’; I was only one Mäori researcher and the ‘truth’ seemed something much larger than could be contained in just me. And then my whanaunga, Moana, said that I should write about what I know is right. So this has been my...

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