Maori health strategy managers recently visited the Phoenix Indian Medical Center (PIMC) in Arizona as part of an annual study tour to build relationships and gain firsthand knowledge about other Indigenous health care structures. Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
Upon arrival, the visitors greeted PIMC staff with a hongi, a traditional Maori greeting in which two people press their noses together to share the “breath of life.” The touching of foreheads acknowledges the ancestors who have come before us. Our guests introduced themselves and offered a song in their indigenous language, Te Reo. The Maori team included Naida Glavish, Riki Nai Nai, Wayne Blissett, Mara Andrews and Patrick Hape.
Participants were members of Tumu Whakarae, a New Zealand national reference group made up of members of District Health Boards which are responsible for providing health care to Maori people. Their tours consist of visiting rural and urban health care facilities across the United States and Canada. From their findings, the team strategizes with their peers on how to further improve the quality of health care in New Zealand.
Similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), the Maori hold traditional values and spiritual beliefs that must be respected and honored within the context of western medicine. For instance, the Maori represent a holistic approach to clinical practices by naming their behavioral health clinic “Wellness of the Mind.” PIMC staff were able to explain how our Traditional Cultural Advocacy Committee advises our Medical Executive Committee on traditional practice. We shared how we regularly offer sweat lodge ceremonies to our patients for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual healing. We further discussed the intricacies of providing care to an extremely diverse AI/AN patient population and the unique needs of each individual.
This visit coincided with RADM Weahkee’s last week as Chief Executive Officer at PIMC, before he was appointed Principal Deputy Director of IHS. At the conclusion of the tour, our Maori guests articulated an appreciation for the respect and wealth of information they received, stating that they hope to visit again in the future.