Conference makes connection between health of the planet, health of humans
- NC Raine | March 15, 2019
Connecting human health with the health of the planet was the focus of the People Around the World (PAW) Planetary Health Conference at the University of Saskatchewan.
The two-day conference brought together Indigenous, health, environment, and policy researchers to discuss how to improve human health while respecting mother nature. The conference also looked into a new planet-based diet that aims to support sustainable food production.
“Understanding and examining issues related to planetary health in an absolute requirement for those of us who operate within health and social sciences, environmental organizations, or anywhere human civilization and nature intersect,” said Dr. Steven Jones, Interim Assistant Vice-Provost, Health and Executive Director of the U of S School of Public Health.
The diet, released in The Lancet, estimates that 10 million deaths worldwide could be prevented if the diet were adopted on a mass scale. It consists mainly of planets and whole grains, limited amounts of seafood and chicken, and the exclusion of red meats and added sugars.
Dr. Donald Warne, from the Oglala Lakota tribe in South Dakota, director of Indians into Medicine, director of Master Public Health, and associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of North Dakota, spoke on health determinants in his hometown of Kyle, South Dakota, that echo many of the issues faced in rural Saskatchewan, including affordable access to healthy food.
“We’re telling the children, we’re not going to invest in your health now, but after you’ve had terribly controlled diabetes for a number of years and you have your leg cut off, then we’ll invest in your needs,” said Warne.
“Is that intelligent? Is it ethical? I would put forth, no. But it's right in front of us everyday – we see this in highly concentrated and marginalized and impoverished communities,” he said.
Warne said that when traditional values are taken away – experienced by children put into residential schools, for example – negativity and anger can develop, leading to self medicating through substance, rather than coping through spirituality.
“People have a spirituality, from Indigenous perspectives, the healing system should reflect the human experience. And spirituality is part of that. The more we integrate prayer into our approach to healing, the more holistic and effective we will be.”
Warne also described how Indigenous people have been deeply immersed in science, technology, engineering, and math for millennia – ways of knowing which can be married with modern science.
“There’s a lot of Indigenous knowledge that be can applied here. When I think about what we do in public health, it’s in many ways of foreign language to Indigenous populations, but it’s not foreign concepts. These are ways we’ve lived forever.”