Meretini Bennett-Huxtable, Rautaki Māori and Rebecca Davis Kaihautū for Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu, are set to embark on a remarkable journey to the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide (HOSW) – The Ninth Gathering in Vancouver. The event will take place on the unceded and ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, hosted at the Vancouver Convention Centre from Monday, September 11 to Friday, September 15, 2023. This prestigious event will unite thousands of Indigenous leaders and healthcare professionals from across the globe to celebrate and share the profound healing power of traditional Indigenous knowledge and cultures.
The conference boasts an impressive lineup of 300 speakers, with an estimated 100 - 200 speakers coming from Aotearoa, New Zealand and thousands from across the globe in attendance. Meretini's presentation, scheduled for Tuesday, will center around health promotion, prevention, education, and awareness. Her discussion, inspired by her abstract, will delve into the Maramataka—a profound concept that explores the reclamation of health and well-being through an indigenous division of time.
Meretini's journey to this international stage began in October last year, she came across a notification about this event. Eager to contribute to the global discourse on Indigenous wisdom and holistic well-being, she expressed her desire to submit an abstract. Her decision received wholehearted support and endorsement from Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, Mātaiwhetū Chief Executive of Te Oranganui Trust. Meretini had been actively refining her work centered around the Maramataka at the time. A cultural framework meticulously crafted by generations of tipuna over millennia. This framework had already earned her opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions and presentations across Aotearoa. Submitting the abstract was a natural progression in her journey, as it allowed her to solidify the Maramataka as a foundational framework for Healthy Families' initiatives. The confirmation of her abstract's acceptance in March marked a significant milestone.
Te Oranganui, the organisation Meretini represents, was even more fortunate, as Wheturangi had two of her abstracts accepted as well. This meant that three abstracts from Te Oranganui would contribute to the rich tapestry of insights at the conference. Wheturangi’s presentations focus on “Ko Au te Awa, ko te Awa ko Au”, which delves into the connection between people living from the mountains to the sea with their surrounding mountains and rivers. It emphasises that this connection is integral to their wellness and well-being. Looking at the history of the river, and the history of the people, using maunga examples, river examples and tangata examples.
The second presentation focusses on “An iwi response to Covid-19”. The iwi approach is based on the Pā tūwatawata [Stockaded Village] framework, which was used to safeguard their community during the pandemic. Emphasising the utilisation of Te Ao Māori frameworks and principles to guide community engagement and service delivery.
“…COVID has created lots of tensions internationally, but actually if we look at the messages of, not being individually focused, but being collectively focused, using our own tikanga as approaches to wellness, linking to our mountains and our rivers, and I think that that's going to be the magic that will come out of attending an event like this.” Wheturangi Walsh-Tapiata, Mātaiwhetū Chief Executive Te Oranganui Trust
As Rautaki Māori, Meretini's role involves infusing Mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge) into all Healthy Families initiatives, fostering transformation through the lens of Māori and indigenous worldviews. This approach draws strength from ancestral narratives, empowering them to move away from Western paradigms and conventional health metrics.
Meretini's presentation has evolved to emphasise "Tīpuna Intelligence" (TI), a concept she has coined to spotlight collective well-being nurtured through their rich indigenous heritage. While the world is abuzz with discussions on Artificial Intelligence (AI), Meretini is passionate about exploring and celebrating the intelligence passed down through generations.
Rebecca Davis, an esteemed Impact Strategist, compliments Meretini's presentation by providing a Systems lens and practical insights into data analytics.
“My work is to help system stakeholders and partners, especially non-Māori, make sense of the indigenous wisdom in a contemporary context. I build the bridge between worlds of thought by translating the opportunity so it lands, it resonates, it makes sense. Thats important when working in complex systems - especially systems failing communities.
Systems thinking removes blaming individuals and focuses us on the interactions and interconnections between the players and structures. It helps leaders and practitioners to think about the conditions holding persistent problems in place, and then work towards designing tactics for over turning these or creating a new reality.”- Rebecca Davis, Kaihautū for Healthy Families, Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu
Together, they aim to offer a comprehensive perspective on the integration of indigenous wisdom with modern systems. Their approach includes interactive workshops, recognising the significance of active participation in indigenous culture.
Their presentation overall aims to tackle the complex challenge of shifting $418 million currently spent on crisis management, toward community engagement and support for community and iwi providers. This transition reflects their core belief that indigenous systems, like the Maramataka, hold the key to preventing health issues and fostering well-being.
While this may not be Meretini's first international stage, it is a particularly exciting one. Her previous experience at the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference in Cairns earlier this year prepared her for this unique opportunity. However, the Vancouver conference promises to be an entirely new adventure, as it brings together indigenous voices from around the world.
The exchange of knowledge between indigenous communities at this conference holds immense potential for transformative change. Meretini is eager to share the profound insights they have gained from using the Maramataka to analyse crisis data. Equally, she is excited to learn from the perspectives and experiences of others, understanding what they might have missed and what they can add to their journey.
“So it's just really exciting to be sharing something that is so innately a part of me and my world, as well as Te Ao Māori, to have that relationship of presence with Papatūānuku and be able to share it in such a critical way of transformation with health. I love the empowerment of this. We've seen such amazing change and transformation happen when we've incorporated mātauranga [Māori] into a lot of the different kaupapa that we do here at Healthy Families. And so, just really excited to share that, and then to hear how other people are doing it as well, and to learn from that, and just to share ideas and be immersed in all of this amazing indigenous space and Wairua.” - Meretini, Rautaki Māori Healthy Families Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu
Furthermore, Wheturangi believes that this conference is just one of many potential opportunities for their team to participate in. Their overarching goal is to showcase the exceptional work happening at Te Oranganui on both local and global platforms.
This brings immense excitement not only to Mere and Rebecca but also to us at Healthy Families and the broader Te Oranganui whānau. We extend our heartfelt wishes for success to Mere, Rebecca, Wheturangi and Elijah.
For more information or to stay connected we have a page dedicated to the Maramataka and Matauranga Māori on our Healthy Families website, unfortunately the conference won’t be live-streamed but members within the team will be recording the session. Mere, Rebecca, Wheturangi and Elijah will also be sharing this knowledge back to Te Oranganui and Healthy Families whānau, they want this to be available, because this belongs to us, this belongs to the people.