16 November 2020
Erina Korohina (Ngāti Porou) has been working as a public health practitioner since graduating from a BSc in Human Nutrition in 2006. Nine of those years were spent living and working in Tai Tokerau supporting the workforce development of the Māori nutrition and physical activity kaimahi and working on grassroots community development programmes. She has spent time working as a kaiārahi nutrition with the national Māori nutrition and physical activity organisation – Toi Tangata.
In 2018 she was awarded the Heart Foundation Māori Cardiovascular Fellowship and is on a research and study journey with a kaupapa Māori focus looking at barriers, enablers and solutions to maintaining a healthy nutrition lifestyle.
Tell us about your current work?
I’m the Heart Foundation’s Māori research cardiovascular fellow. I was lucky enough to be the Fellow the last two years and I reapplied in 2020 and was successful for the next three years as well.
Alongside that I’m working on a piece of research with the Heart Foundation and the Centre for Health here in Tauranga. The fancy name for it is Barriers, Enablers, and Solutions for Maintaining a Healthy Nutrition Lifestyle. It’s using a Kaupapa Māori co-design approach.
The purpose of the research is to gain an understanding of community and whānau perceptions around healthy eating. What are the things that make healthy eating easy? and the things that make healthy eating hard? And then through a kaupapa Māori frame, to co-design a nutrition programme alongside whānau.
What I’ve been doing is looking at how we as Māori navigate nutrition advice and where that information comes from. So I looked at the traditional, Eurocentric nutrition guidelines. But then I also looked into our mātauranga Māori. For example I’ve been looking at Maramataka, which is the lunar cycle and basically a set of guidelines Māori use to navigate the ebbs and flows of the environment and our interaction with it. It gives you a heads up on the best days of when to plant, harvest and fish. So rather than just having a set of nutrition guidelines or statements that say how individuals should eat, this is actually more of a holistic and collective way of looking at how we as a community influence and can be influenced by the environment. We have karakia that offer guidance on the type of food to eat, environmental protections and how to sustain that food. So there’s a whole lot of mātauranga Māori knowledge already sitting there that we can utilize.
We’ve just completed the first stage of a co-design, looking to develop a nutrition platform to be able to utilize in the future. That’s where I’m at at the moment with the research, which is full on, and then I’m also doing my Masters in Public Health, through Auckland university. The hope is that for the next three years I’ll move into doing my PhD. Alongside that I’m also doing te reo Māori at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
You’ve got a nice connection with all of your projects. What drives you to keep going in this space?
When I first started studying back in the day, I did my undergrad in Human Nutrition. And I think when I first started, it was all about me. I wanted to find out how my body responded to different things and I was curious. But then after I did my undergrad, I moved up to Te Tai Tokerau in Northland and I got a community nutrition role with a Māori health organization. I learned a wealth of information around food sovereignty and the importance of food security and what that means for Māori communities. I was going in with my new grad university pōtae (hat) on and going, okay, we need to stop drinking fizzy. And then I got told actually, what we want to know more about is how can we capture the intergenerational knowledge transfer around mara kai (gardening), from our kaumatua to our mokopuna. And that was the start of my learning journey of understanding food sovereignty, Hua Parakore and the whakapapa of kai. And then learning about colonization and the ongoing impacts and trauma that this has on the health and wellbeing of our whānau. So that was big for me.
And I guess, moving into heart health research, the death rate from cardiovascular disease for Māori is two times more than that for non-Māori. And I think that’s what really drives me: we have these huge inequities in health, which are unfair and unjust. I think it’s a critical time for investing in Māori health and wellbeing and heart health. That’s what keeps me going.
Why do you say it’s a critical time now?
Well, we’ve had two reviews come out recently. The Health and Disability Sector Review and analysis from phase one of the WAI2575 Health Services and Outcome Inquiry which both have recommendations on investment in Māori health and embedding equity and anti-racism within the health sector. If you want to really be true to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and make inroads to truly equitable health outcomes, that’s what you need to be doing.
Also, the Heart Foundation recently presented a White Paper to Parliament calling for a coordinated national Action plan to improve heart health outcomes and address systemic barriers and inequities. So it feels like there’s a little bit of energy and excitement happening in that space and I’m keen to keen to be involved.
What is your vision for the future health of everyone in Aotearoa?
What I would hope to see is equitable health outcomes for Māori in particularly in heart health. It’s hard because as a Māori, I am expected to live seven years less than my Pākehā husband. That the life expectancy for Māori is seven years less than that of non-Māori, is crazy. My vision for the future is that this is no longer an issue. And I think that has to come from constitutional change in the health system and outside of the health system as well. You know, the way that our systems are set up is we are in these silos of health, education, whatever, but actually our life doesn’t exist like that, and there’s so many interactions in between, and that’s where our social determinants of health have such an effect on our wellbeing.
Is there anything that you wish that anyone had said to you when you were starting out in public health and nutrition?
I think one of the biggest things for me would have been the understanding around how people’s different experiences, values, beliefs and knowledge systems influence the way they think. We are informed and influenced by our own experiences and understanding of how we view the world. And I think if I had had more of an understanding about that and if somebody had said to me: what you really need to most importantly think about is your own reflection on yourself and your own experiences, and how that might influence how you undertake your mahi. And I think in public health and in health itself that’s really important if you’re going to go out and work in the community.
Is there any advice that you would give to people starting out now in public health?
I would say find some somebody to support you or some allies that are really clever. And there’s heaps of people out there. Link up with the Public Health association or jump into the Māori Public Health Leadership programme. They will connect you up with people on similar journeys along with mentors and great resources.