The history of health, the health of history: P. Reid, D. Cormack, S-J. Paine,’Colonial histories, racism and health—The experience of Māori and Indigenous peoples’, Public Health, 2019


Abstract: The health of Māori, the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, New Zealand, like that of almost all Indigenous peoples worldwide, is characterised by systematic inequities in health outcomes, differential exposure to the determinants of health, inequitable access to and through health and social systems, disproportionate marginalisation and inadequate representation in the health workforce. As health providers, we are often taught that ‘taking a history’ is a critical component of a patient consultation to ensure that the underlying conditions are treated rather than the often superficial presenting symptoms. In the same way, attempts to make sense of the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples is inadequate unless health providers engage critically with the history of their respective nations and any subsequent patterns of privilege or disadvantage. Understanding this history, within the framework of western imperialism and other similar colonial projects, allows us to make sense of international patterns of Indigenous health status.

While health commentators acknowledge the unequal health outcomes of Indigenous people, and an increasing number also link these inequities to Indigenous marginalisation resulting from historic events, very few go further and expose the deep relationship between racism and coloniality and how these continue to be the basic determinants of Indigenous health today. This work includes honest examination of the role that science and the health disciplines have played historically in colonisation through the subjugation of Indigenous ways of knowing and knowledge production, as well as being complicit in the creation and maintenance of a fabricated hierarchy of humankind. Despite the ‘science’ of this racial hierarchy being discredited, it retains a false validity in our societies. As long as oppressive systems that continue to re-inscribe racism and white privilege remain in communities, including our academic communities, coloniality continues its discrimination.

Indigenous voices on migration, ethnicity, racism and health will always demand the elimination of inequities in health but to do so will require a parallel commitment to critically interrogating all of our histories and our disciplines, as well as examining how our practice, including research, disrupts or maintains global systems of racism and coloniality.

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