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What You Can Learn From Indigenous Models of Health

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What does it mean to you to be healthy? What measures do you take to improve your health and why do you choose particular methods over others?

While many people are familiar with assessing their health, few take the time to examine their definition of it. Fewer still question how they arrived at that definition.  Yet by evaluating your thinking in these areas you gain an appreciation of your personal health model.  Possessing a greater level of knowledge about this framework will allow you to make more informed decisions about what you need to do to be healthy.

Your Worldview

A worldview is your fundamental belief system and the point of view arising thereof. It drives how you perceive and interpret the world around you. It’s what tells one person that magic is real while the next person knows it is not. It underpins and shapes your blueprint (or model) for good health.

Below is a simple exercise you can do to discover what your health model is.  Two example models follow which are associated with particular ethnic groups. There may be a variety of models existing within those groups. The examples only provide basic descriptions as their primary purpose is to assist you in determining your own individual model.

As you read the examples take note of what features resonate with you. Pay equal attention to the things that provoke a negative reaction.

A Maori Model of Health

The Maori are the indigenous Polynesian peoples of New Zealand. Inherent in their worldview is the close inter-relationship between the spiritual and natural worlds. Historically, ailments were deemed to have either a physical or spiritual cause. The latter would oftentimes be because the person had committed a transgression that created imbalance in that relationship.[1]

A contemporary interpretation of the Maori model of health is expressed as te whare tapa wha (the four-sided house).[2] The house is built on four cornerstones: Taha tinana (physical health), taha hinengaro (mental health), taha wairua (spiritual health) and taha whanau (family health).

To be healthy it is essential for each aspect to be equally strong. Illness occurs when there is weakness in any of the four dimensions. There are nuances within each aspect. Taha whanau for instance includes a sense of belonging to a wider group as well as your ability to care and contribute towards others. Identity of ‘self’ is intrinsically linked to ones connection with ancestors as well as future generations. Spiritual health while including faith, also extends to natural energies, life force and your life’s direction.

Reflect on each component as it relates to you. If you were at your physical peak but your child was sick would you actually feel healthy? How does it feel when you support your child to achieve their potential? Does that affect your overall sense of well-being?

An Inuit Model of Health

Canada’s indigenous peoples are referred to as Inuit (Eastern Canadian Arctic) or Inuinnait (Central Canadian Arctic). Inuit is also used to describe a group of peoples which besides those from the Canadian Arctic also include the Kalaallit of Greenland and the Inupiat of Northern Alaska. They are closely related to the Yupik group which includes the Naukan of Siberia, the Yupik of Russian Siberia and St Lawrence Island in Alaska, the Yup’ik of Alaska and the Alutiig of south-central Alaska.[3]

Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is often translated as Inuit epistemology. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit provides the basis for a model of health that incorporates emotional, spiritual, cognitive, social (cultural) and physical dimensions. One’s purpose in life is derived from one’s contribution to the well-being of others.[4]

For indigenous peoples whose cultural markers are clear, knowledge of what one’s purpose in life is more readily identified for the individuals who are part of that society. That knowledge may not be as accessible in westernised cultures where there has been much merging of cultural precepts.

Think about how clearly defined your own purpose of being is. Have you achieved conventional success in different parts of your life but can’t seem to shift a feeling of dissatisfaction?

Building your Model

The health models of indigenous peoples have many features in common. They are often holistic, founded on notions of the inter-connectedness of the universe. Wellness tends to be achieved through the advocacy for and guardianship of this relationship and other living or spiritual things.

Identify the Parameters

This final exercise will give you the building blocks for your model.  Use the dimensions described in the examples above as your reference points (e.g. physical, mental, social and spiritual health etc). Start by thinking about how important you believe each dimension is to your good health. Evaluate how positive or negative each of those areas of your life are currently.

Here are some questions that might also help.

What makes you feel stressed? Why? You need to be specific with your answers and keep testing them to gain a deeper level of understanding. For instance, it is not enough to respond with 'work'.  You need to identify what exactly it is about work that is causing your stress. Is it the long hours? What is it about the long hours that is stressful? Might it be because you would prefer to spend that time with your family?

What would you do with your family during that time? Are you not doing that now? Are you worried that you're placing too great a burden on your partner to look after the kids? What makes you think they'd mind?

By using the 'why' and 'so what' method of testing each answer, you should eventually get to the root cause of your anxiety in that area. Approach the dimensions from the other direction too. For example, how do you like to spend your free time? What does quality time mean to you?

Once you have finished you will have a much clearer understanding of what your health model is comprised of. You will be able to use this knowledge to to make more effective decisions about your total wellbeing. And the next time you’re feeling not ‘quite right’, you will have a better understanding of what you need to do about it.

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Comments

May 22, 2014 9:00am
Ruby3881
This article was really interesting! I have long felt that health is about balance between all the aspects of our lives - physical, mental and emotional, social and familial, spiritual, etc. I guess I would lean more towards the Maori model you cited.
May 22, 2014 3:21pm
Lisa_W
Thanks! I think that while many people's conscious view of good health may be relatively narrow (physical, mental) (no judgment!) they subconsciously seek out the other aspects in any case.

Self-help books, me time, catching up with friends, inflicting the Eat, Pray, Love movie upon themselves or whatever, they usually associate these things with feeling good but don't perhaps make a 'formal' connection between this and holistic health.
May 22, 2014 3:56pm
Ruby3881
The first thing to recognize about holistic health is that it looks at the whole person. Anything that is important to the individual, will also be important to their health.
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Bibliography

  1. Rhys Jones "Rongoā – medicinal use of plants - Understanding rongoā." Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 22/11/2013 <Web >
  2. Mason Durie Whaiora: Maori health development. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  3. New World Encyclopedia contributors "Eskimo." New World Encyclopedia. 22/11/2013 <Web >
  4. Shirley Tagalik "Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: The role of Indigenous knowledge in supporting wellness in Inuit communities in nunavut." Inuit Child and Youth Health, National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. 23/11/2013 <Web >

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