Walking up the snowy peak in Antarctica I am pinching myself. High above the ocean, the strange shapes of icebergs make for a surreal panorama. It is quite literally awe inspiring. It is a place where our Mother Earth reigns supreme. I am not alone. I stand with 100 women in STEMM, here to work together to provide leadership in these terrifying days of climate emergency.

The human footprints I make are small and insignificant, much like the appearance of human influence. But below the surface our human destructive element is all too apparent. Disruption of our world’s weather centre grinds on, slowly but surely. And yet Hinehukapapa, the goddess of ice and snow, our Māori deity of this land still holds her own majesty. 

I feel ancient footprints beneath my feet too. Hui Te-Rangiora and Aru Tanga-Nuku who came here in the 7th century whisper to me. They dreamed about us, their descendents. They ask me to dream of future generations to come. We  must channel our inner ancestors to discover our true legacy. What will we pass on? How will we protect our Mother Earth? Our planetary waka, our space ship who transports us safely through the galaxy? 

Our indigenous wisdom is not regarded as “evidence”. Evidence is the currency of mainstream science. And of course it is self-defined and highly territorial. Science guards it power base. Occasional lip service is paid to indigenous scholars in the same way that qualitative research is tolerated. Our “stories” our “legends” are carefully and deliberately sidelined. Science is of course highly politicised. Science is not neutral. Science was used to justify the massacres of those humans deemed less worthy and part of the flora and fauna until the late 1960s in some parts of the world. And the subsequent intergenerational trauma, often justified by the science of the time, continues to impact on our peoples today. Our indigenous suicide rates are the highest in the world. The systematic destruction of our languages and removal from our lands and cultural practices continues to rip through our communities. Here at Homeward Bound we have been devastated by the suicide of one of our sisters, a descendent of Taranaki and Ngāi Tahu. A grim reminder that the beginnings of climate emergency and the colonising systems put in place centuries ago continue to hurt our planet and to cause human pain, suffering and death. 

As a Māori women, mother, psychiatrist, I am committed to changing this trajectory. Our indigenous evidence is an essential part of the radical change needed to inform practical healing of our peoples and our planet. Indigenous peoples must be at the table, and form the critical power shift where the dominant cultures learn to share actual power in order that structural racism is torn down. Only then do we have any real chance of living as ancestors and creating better futures for our descedants. 

I stand here on this pure white peak and I dream of my childrens’ children standing here, passing on their own ancestral legacy, passing on their contribution to the healthy future for our planet.

HB4 participant Dr Hinemoa Elder is Māori of Ngāti Kurī, Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa and  Ngāpuhi descent. She is the Professor of Indigenous Health Research at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, the Māori Strategic Leader for Brain Research NZ and a Fellow of RANZCP. A practising child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Elder’s clinical work is in youth forensic psychiatry and neuropsychiatry.