UM Community Health and Prevention Sciences Professor Explores Enhancing Health Collaborations With New Zealand, Maori and Pacific Islander Populations

Brown, B. - NZ Release - April 2016
Professor Blakely Brown talks with Glen Skipper, Te Moeone project coordinator, and other Maori community members about their kumara (sweet potato) crop and seed banking efforts in Taranaki, New Zealand.

AUCKLAND and WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND – Blakely Brown, professor of community health and prevention sciences in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Montana, is in the midst of a four-month international faculty exchange in New Zealand where she is collaborating with faculty conducting health research with Maori and Pasifika Island populations in New Zealand, and the Cook and Tonga islands.

Thirty-three percent of New Zealanders are Maori and Pacific Islander descent. In the era of UM’s Strategic Plan, “UM 2020: Building a University for the Global Century,” Brown’s faculty exchange will advance collaborations for both faculty and students at UM who are interested in learning more about population health and wellness in the Oceania region of the world. The exchange will also further expand Brown’s intercultural expertise, specifically in Maori and Pasifika Islander health.

“The exchange has resulted in strengthening collaborations between New Zealand universities and UM,” Brown said. “Students and faculty will benefit greatly from this collaboration through unique, interdisciplinary approaches to reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases via strategies that bring the combined power of education, science and public health together.”

Brown recently spent a weekend in Taranaki, New Zealand, to help harvest kumara (sweet potatoes), onions and carrots, and learn more about the innovative Te Moeone Project. Directed by Glen Skipper, the grassroots project is comprised primarily of Maori families who live in the Taranaki region. The families have developed a large area in a historically situated marae to grow produce and establish a seed bank. The seed bank will serve as a repository for seeds that can be used in the future growing seasons, and will also conserve the seed’s genetic diversity for the future.

“Similar projects are taking hold in Maori communities across New Zealand,” said Skipper. “Having families come together to grow their own food has the potential for people of all ages to develop a greater understanding of food systems through the cultivation of connections with food, environment, and community.”

Glen and others are keenly aware that local, regional and global food security depends on this diversity. During her visit, Brown was able to share information about similar projects that are occurring in American Indian communities in the U.S., and also exchange ideas with Glen and community members about ways for Indigenous populations to become more interested in growing and using local produce and establishing seed banks.

This type of cross-cultural and international collaboration is not unique to the Department of Health and Human Performance. Faculty across UM’s Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences strive to work with as many diverse and varied partners as possible. Currently, there are projects in various stages of development and implementation being conducted with educational and clinical partners in Bhutan, Ethiopia, China, India and Canada.

“We are incredibly proud of the work that Dr. Brown is conducting while in New Zealand,” said Roberta Evans, dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences at UM. “Her collaborative mentality and extensive expertise has been honed through her work with Native American populations here in Montana, and that knowledge is proving to not just be applicable to other people and cultures, but incredibly beneficial and lasting. We are thrilled to see the connections she is making and are excited to learn from her work.”

To learn more about Brown’s work, the community health and prevention sciences program or the Department of Health and Human Performance, visit http://www.coehs.umt.edu, call Peter Knox at 406-243-4911 or email peter.knox@mso.umt.edu.