Bodies of Proof - in search of Indigenous humanity

Professor Papaarangi Reid - IIRC20
Friday, November 20, 2020

Well-documented health inequities exist between and within countries worldwide. Almost without exception, these inequities are extreme among Indigenous peoples within colonised nation states. Where these inequities are measured, they are described in neutral terms or in terms that appeal to human and Indigenous rights, as moral and ethical levers to motivate social and political change. However few nations have implemented comprehensive and well-resourced interventions specifically designed to eliminate these inequities bourne by Indigenous peoples. Some counter discourses have emerged to undermine efforts to promote equity including ones that promote ‘individual responsibility’ and ‘genetic predisposition’.

Recognising that rights-based arguments for achieving equity have got limited political traction, researchers have also provided evidence that health inequities are both costly and economically inefficient for nation states. Economic arguments are said to be significant drivers of change in neo-liberal capitalist societies and a small but growing literature exists of the economic costs of health inequity. Our project demonstrated that New Zealand society bears significant economic “Costs of Doing Nothing” as inequitable health outcomes are played out on Māori bodies and within our communities. These costs can be calculated from premature and preventable deaths, hospitalisations, undertreatment, mismanagement, neglect and cultural incompetence.

However theoretical questions need to be asked as to why Indigenous researchers are forced to use these rights-based or economic arguments to plead for the humanity of Indigenous lives. Little attention is paid to powerful, unwaivering and perfectly designed systems that generate these inequitable outcomes and the populations that benefit from them. This presentation focuses on these theoretical issues.