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“Looking back....moving forward”, a call that themed cutting edge conference 2019. Four days of insightful knowledge and education shared by national and international scholars covering a variety of public health issues under the umbrellas of mental health and addiction. Motivation, aspirations, and hope for a better future prevailed the conference leaving more than three hundred professionals with a mission to improving mental health and addiction practices in New Zealand Aotearoa. Five of our kaimahi attended the conference that they described to be “an outstanding experience”.

On Wednesday, September the 18th our national gambling team attended the pre-conference meetings which covered the following topics:

Māori Hui: Orakei declaration, Māori lead addiction treatments, services and models, FASD, and drug courts.

GPS DRUA Fono: Services demand, service equity, and accountability system.

Asian networking seminar: working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) clients including challenges facing CALD communities such as inter-generational conflicts, families inclusion in the recovery journey, and concerns with using interpreters.

The first day of the conference was kicked off with a presentation by Dr Ashley Bloomfield who highlighted the fundamental political shift from perceiving addiction as a criminal issue to a public health issue, highlighting the up and coming cannabis referendum in 2020. She also confirmed the importance of including peer-support in the recovery journey which she believed has a core role in improving the health and wellbeing of people in recovery.

We then gained a new perspective of viewing the overrepresentation of indigenous communities contact with the health and justice systems using what Laura Porter described as the “historical trauma “ remarkably explained in relation to the four cores of science of Neuroscience, epigenetics, ACES, and resilience. 

We were then reminded of the history of Takaparawhā, and Ngāti Whātua by Maraea Robb & Tama Davis who stated clearly the need for working alongside Ngāti Whātua to help them lead the systems that shape the health and wellbeing of their people.

Before the con-current sessions, Mark Kopua and Matiu Pennell presented an unforgettable lecture around indigenising our workspaces and practices and provided an explanation of what kaupapa Māori practise really looks like. The equally amazing Dr Hinemoa Elder educated us about cannabis use from a psychiatric point of view and critiqued cannabis laws and the current status particularly for Māori. She concluded her presentation with a piece of advice to be careful and caution about the biased academic studies that lack Māori representation.

The honourable John Dobson memorial lecture by Professor Doug Sellman was widely applauded by everyone who attended the conference, where he acknowledged John as a pioneer being a customer-focused, speaking on social issues, enjoying life, and had a passion for science and literature. Sellman then guided us through the alcohol and cannabis culture in New Zealand and left us reminded about the importance of being optimistic about the change we could achieve in the world.

On the morning of Friday the 2nd day of the conference we were fortunate to have Laura Porter again to guide us through what she titled “when culture heals” which talked about the power of community to change, improve, and use their healing principles to address concerning health issues. She then highlighted the need for leadership and concluded her lecture by saying that leadership is induced by the behaviour that every individual chooses where to be lead, giving mana back to the community to choose who to follow.

With her intelligent manner, Dr Karlo Mila talked about Mana Moana and took us through history and a story of different ways of acknowledging time and space. She then talked about the connections of the pacific islands and highlighted that “not all knowledge taught in the same school”.

Addiction to punishment is the statement that Debora Peterson-small chose to be the theme of her presentation. Under this title, Debora provided an overview of the race-based beginnings of the drug war and reminded us that the current drug laws were framed by that drug war, where she said “ when thinking  of punishment, addiction is the promoting of substance known by those who promote it to be socially, physically, and psychologically harmful”. She then highlighted the importance of Māori engagement in all levels of the upcoming cannabis referendum.

Later on, Professor Elizabeth Elliot provided an insightful view of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a public health issue that is feed by the New Zealand alcohol culture. The highlight of her presentation was the improvement of the diagnostic tool over time. She then talked about a few examples of indigenous leadership and ownership and stated the importance of empowering and supporting aboriginal communities to lead the way.

Lastly, our gambling team was very fortunate to attend Laura Porter’s post-conference workshop on Saturday where she further talked about “self-healing communities”, leading transformative solutions, and the values that drive our systems and practices.

All in all, if you are a health practitioner, politician, influencer, or someone who cares about his/her people, you have a duty and a responsibility to make the land of Aotearoa a place that allows its people to live, flourish and age protected from all harm including addiction and mental health issues. 

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