When Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels took to the stage at Healing Our Spirit Worldwide (HOSW) she was clear that she wanted to do something different than simply share a slideshow. The Native Hawaiian said that the international event in Vancouver provided a safe space for Indigenous people that allows for “uncomfortability" in having difficult discussions.
Taking an introspective view of Indigenous health care, Dr. Daniels was vulnerable in sharing her fears with the audience about a topic she said is common.
“Am I Indigenous enough to speak to all of you today?" she asked, rhetorically.
Dr. Daniels was asking the audience to think about the lateral violence—a term she did not use but one which describes her keynote speech—that occurs when Indigenous people cause harm to other Indigenous people.
“The thing that brings down a Hawaiian is another Hawaiian," she said. “Think about that in your community. Think about whether that's true."
Many Indigenous people are used to using a “disparity narrative" in talking about health care, but Dr. Daniels said that Indigenous people need to look inward and beyond the colonizers. She said that in health care the disparity narrative may get funding but it keeps people sick.
“We keep looking from a place of 'less than,'" she said.
Dr. Daniels spoke about her Hawaiian ancestors, from whom she draws inspiration, who had faced adversity but found ways to become resilient, abundant and thrive with their environment.
She urged the audience to become “intentional" which means making choices to put into play ideas that are bigger than just your own personal situation. By looking at health care solutions that are “consensus" or community-based, Indigenous people can make choices that do not hold their people back.
Dr. Daniels also encouraged Indigenous communities to look inward and hold accountable those individuals who make choices that do not help their people thrive. She said this can be the hardest thing to do, because people can find it challenging to criticize decisions made by their own community members.
“It's hard to be excluded by people who look like us and talk like us. It's hard to speak up with our own people."
The Hawaiian said that she wants to hear from people at the next HOSW who have stepped up to make meaningful change for their people. And if they can't change, she encouraged them to step aside for others.
“Step up. Or step out. It's our choice."
As she closed her remarks, above her on the large overhead screen was a photograph of the lush mountainous landscape of her island home of Maui. “Even when the narrative is painted as disparity, I choose to think about what I want to work towards and what I want to see. And I see this beauty."