If I had to pick one word to describe my experience in Palmy, I would choose the word inspiring. I was so grateful to be in a room full of people who are looking after the wellbeing of our past, present, and future generations through their different mahi. The mātauranga shared at this particular conference resonated so well with not only myself, but, I believe, the whole SUDI team that attended. This was the first conference I had attended in my time here in Aotearoa that was focused solely on māmā and pēpi, which is where most of my academic interest lies. In a nutshell, the conference was absolutely amazing. Each speaker had a different kōrero that I was able to listen to and add to my own kete to be able to take back to my island home and even my university. I would say that I learned three significant things from the conference as a whole. Although I am not a physician or a health professional at the moment, I believe that this was great exposure to the knowledge, methodologies, and disparities that are out there in the indigenous space at the moment. I now feel enabled and empowered to draw on these experiences in future research and academic endeavors.
The first is that I have learned the importance of approach. From experience, I see how telling a person to do one thing makes them want to do the complete opposite and I believe that that is occuring in so many health spaces where Māori, Pacific and Hawaiian whānau are concerned. Whānau are being told not to smoke or not to partake in certain harmful activities instead of being asked why their behavior is the way it is. This idea of approaching whānau in a way that suits their unique needs was a theme expressed in every kōrero in one way or another shared that day. It also helps to build relationships between providers and whānau and allows for things to be shared between provider and whānau that even whānau haven’t shared with other whānau members.
Another thing that I took away from this conference was the importance of collective spaces that are spiritually, emotionally, culturally, and physically nurturing. Pregnancy in itself is a strenuous yet rewarding process that makes wāhine unique and having a space where the wellbeing of the pēpi and the māmā is at the forefront will help to make the pregnancy and even birthing process much more meaningful and enjoyable for everyone. These collective spaces also look after the wants and needs of māmā and whānau for pēpi and how their wants and needs are unique and independent of what others have had previous or even what others believe to be the “best way.” Collective spaces can also look like various wānanga (wahakura, hapū, etc.) that help wāhine hapū to share their goals, fears, experiences with other hapū māmā who could be going through the same things but are too afraid to come out and say it. These collective spaces allow for things to be shared in a safe way that isn’t governed by a set agenda or a certain outcome measure. Dr. Naomi Simminds emphasized that tikanga maori should support and empower hapū māmā to make decisions that are good for that particular māmā and her pēpi and that those in her whānau should act as her pou and offer support for māmā and her decisions. There should be no standard or “one way fits all,” but there should be a space where māmā feel empowered to make the best decisions for pēpi.
The last thing that I will always remember from this conference was the kōrero around identity and itʻs importance in not only this space of mokopuna ora but also in other indigenous spaces. Since being in Aotearoa, I have gained a higher level of awareness of where I am with my Hawaiian identity and culture. Being surrounded so frequently by colleagues who speak the language in their everyday conversation whether it be in full-blown te reo or just smaller words put in here and there, it makes me yearn to be in those kinds of spaces when I return back to Hawai`i and even create those kinds of spaces up at my uni. The kōrero about identity was centered around how names aren’t always set in stone but rather they can change with the experience that that pēpi encounters or the events that a person in the whānau endures. This put my whole idea of identity and names in a different perspective and it reminded me the importance of names in relation to significant places, peoples, and events.
Overall, the conference was one that has touched my naʻau (soul) forever. This is a space that I aspire to be in one day and I hope to make as much of a difference in the realm of maternal and child health as the many kaimahi that were gathered that day. Although I dread the thought of research, this conference taught me the importance of utilizing research to accompany and enhance, but never suppress or dismiss, the thoughts, traditions, and practices of our kūpuna.