Season 2 (ONLINE): “Indigenous Narratives of Healthcare” (Winter Semester 2021)

  • 14 September, 16–17 EET

Prof. Bodil Hansen Blix (Department of Health and Care Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT, the Arctic University of Norway): “Playfulness in narrative care with Indigenous older adults”

  • 5 October, 16–17 EET

Dr Wasiq Silan (Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki): “Decolonizing care: listening to the voices of bnkis, Tayal Elders”

  • 2 November, 16–17 EET

Dr Mounia El Kotni (Cems-EHESS Paris): “Traditional medical knowledge at risk: the struggle of indigenous midwives and doctors in Mexico”

  • 23 November, 16–17 EET

Dr Emily Kate Timms (University of Vienna): “‘It was as if all that history had never happened at all’: Elderhood, Dementia-Gain, and Indigenous Wellbeing in Witi Ihimaera’s Whanau II (2004)”


(After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.)

Abstracts and Speakers’ bios:

Prof. Bodil Hansen Blix: “Playfulness in narrative care with Indigenous older adults”

In this talk, I will slightly twist the seminar series topic ‘Indigenous Narratives of Healthcare’ and rather reflect on how attending to Indigenous narratives is and must be an integral part of care. Narrative care is not merely about acknowledging or listening to people’s stories. Care itself is an intrinsically narrative endeavor. In this talk, I build on Lugones’ understanding of playfulness, particularly her call to remain attentive to a sense of uncertainty, and an openness to surprise. Playfulness cultivates a generative sense of curiosity that relies on a close attentiveness not only to the other, but to who we each are within relational spaces. Generative curiosity is only possible if we remain playful as we engage and think with experiences and if we remain responsive to the other. Through playfulness, we resist dominant narratives and hold open relational spaces that create opportunities of retelling and reliving our experiences. Drawing on my work alongside Sami older adults, I will reflect on the possibilities of playfulness in the co-composition of stories across time. 

Bodil H. Blix is a professor with the Department of health and care sciences, the Faculty of health sciences, UiT The arctic university of Norway. She is head of the master’s degree program in aging and geriatric healthcare at UiT The arctic university of Norway. She is also chair of the research group Centre for care research north. Her research interests are in the intersections of narrative inquiry and critical gerontology. She is interested in the lives and well-being of older adults in general and Indigenous older adults in particular. Her expertise concerns older adults and family caregivers, with a particular attention to how gendered, ethnic, and socio-economic inequities are sustained and how such inequities could be addressed and counteracted. She has conducted several research projects with Sami communities.

Dr Wasiq Silan: “Decolonizing care: listening to the voices of bnkis, Tayal Elders”

This presentation explores the “wholistic” as a central concept of “the good life” as expressed by the bnkis, Tayal Indigenous Elders, who participated in the Day Club, Tayal territory of Northern Taiwan. In particular, I analyze the stories of care experienced by the bnkis from the standpoint of wholistic relationships. The stories were recorded primarily between 2015 and 2018. In this analysis we used a critical qualitative design approach, privileging Tayal epistemology and informed by Tayal hermeneutics. The results show that the concept of well-being for the bnkis is closely linked to their relationships with people and with the land and spirituality. It is through these relationships that the continuation of Gaga— Tayal law and cosmology— has been adapted organically over time. We argue that Gaga is central to Tayal Elder/bnkis care, and that it is imperative in promoting their well-being. In the long-term, in developing an elderly care system that is genuinely culturally relevant, the concept of wholistic relationships, central to Gaga well-being, is essential. This research demonstrates how the wholistic concept can improve human health and well-being, and ultimately provides implications for sustainable development.

Wasiq Silan a Tayal from the riverscape of Taranan, north Tayal territory, Taiwan. She works as a researcher at the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism, University of Helsinki. Her research focuses on Indigenous governance and sovereignty, relations between coloniality and indigeneity, knowledge production and elderly care. Wasiq is currently working on a project funded by the Norwegian Research Council that explores ageing, quality of life, and home-based care among two Indigenous Peoples: Sámi in Norway and Tayal in Taiwan. Wasiq defended her doctoral dissertation entitled “Social Policies and Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan: Elderly Care Among the Tayal” in mid-May 2021. 

Dr Mounia El Kotni: “Traditional medical knowledge at risk: the struggle of indigenous midwives and doctors in Mexico”

Since the late 1980s, the Organization of Indigenous Doctors of Chiapas (OMIECH) aims at safeguarding and transmitting traditional indigenous medical knowledge. The organization made of over fifty members from several municipalities of the State of Chiapas has a long history of stepping up in the face of international, national and local policies threatening traditional healers and midwives’ knowledge. In the mid-1990s OMIECH was part of a movement rejecting a bioprospection project. Thirty years later, the organization is at the forefront of the struggle to resist the institutionalizing of midwifery.

In this talk, I reflect on the long-standing activism of OMIECH and the diverse threats, past and present, traditional midwives face and how they struggle to maintain their practices. I also interrogate the role researchers have in the process of cultural appropriation and defense.

Mounia El Kotni is a medical anthropologist based in Paris, France. Her research interests include traditional midwifery, gender and biomedicine (in particular breast cancer and childbirth) and environmental health. Since 2013, she has collaborated with OMIECH on the impact of global health policies on traditional midwives’ practices.

Dr Emily Kate Timms: “‘It was as if all that history had never happened at all’: Elderhood, Dementia-Gain, and Indigenous Wellbeing in Witi Ihimaera’s Whanau II (2004)”

Dementia’s symptoms – particularly memory ‘impairment’ – are often figured as anathema to personhood in cultural and gerontological discourses emerging out of the Global North. In this paper I unpack the relationship between Indigenous elderhood (kaumātuatanga), dementia, and Indigenous wellbeing and activism in Māori author Witi Ihimaera’s 2004 novel Whanau II. I explore the tension between, one the one hand, efforts by dementia studies scholars to decentre the significance of memory to the personhood of people living with dementia, and, on the other, the centrality of intergenerational memory and storytelling to Indigenous wellbeing and postcolonial justice foregrounded in Indigenous trauma studies. These disciplines’ contrastive approaches to memory raise an urgent question: if one is unable to recall and narrate ‘history’, does this mean that people living with dementia might become excluded from participating in contemporary forms of Indigenous redress and healing?

I respond to this question by drawing on interventions in Indigenous health research and Deaf studies to conceptualise dementia as a condition that might bring about forms of experiential ‘dementia-gain’. My analysis of Whanau II concentrates on the elder Nani Paora, the oldest living member of Te Whānau a Kai iwi (tribe; kinship group). I interpret Paora as living with dementia, a condition that physically manifests long-forgotten communal memories of colonial resistance. The elder’s embodied and cognitive difference brings into relief the damaging influence of colonial logics that privilege linear histories and narratives over collective attitudes towards Indigenous cultural memory, wellbeing, and care. Ultimately, I consider how Ihimaera’s aesthetics melds Paora’s episodic memory, play, and misrecognition to dramatise dementia as a gainful locus for reimagining Indigenous intergenerational care and land activism.

Dr Emily Kate Timms received her PhD from the University of Leeds in April 2021. Her thesis, ‘Postcolonial Representations of Age and Ageing in Aotearoa New Zealand and Caribbean Texts’ explores the fault lines and intersections between postcolonial studies, age studies, critical gerontology, and dementia studies. She would like to acknowledge the Indigenous authors and kaitiaki (guardians) of the Ngā Taonga: Sound and Vision Archives and J.C. Beaglehole Room, Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, for making her thesis research possible. Emily recently completed a short Northern Network for Medical Humanities Early Career Research Fellowship entitled ‘Reimagining Intergenerational Health Solidarities: Anti-racism, Care, and Dementia, 1980-Present’ and in September 2021 she joined the ERC-funded ‘Poetry off the Page’ project at the University of Vienna as a postdoctoral researcher exploring Black British spoken word poetry.