Introduction: The Ottawa Charter is undeniably of pivotal importance in the history of ideas associated with the establishment of health promotion. There is much to applaud in a charter which responds to the need to take action on the social and economic determinants of health and which seeks to empower communities to be at the centre of this. Such accolades tend to position the Ottawa Charter as 'beyond critique'; a taken-for-granted 'given' in the history of health promotion. In contrast, we argue it is imperative to critically reflect on its 'manufacture' and assess the possibility that certain voices have been privileged, and others marginalized.
Methods: This paper re-examines the 1986 Ottawa Conference including its background papers from a postcolonial standpoint. We use critical discourse analysis as a tool to identify the enactment of power within the production of the Ottawa health promotion discourse. This exercise draws attention to both the power to ensure the dominant presence of privileged voices at the conference as well as the discursive strategies deployed to 'naturalize' the social order of inequality.
Results: Our analysis shows that the discourse informing the development of the Ottawa Charter strongly reflected Western/colonizer centric worldviews, and actively silenced the possibility of countervailing Indigenous and developing country voices.
Conclusion: The Ottawa Charter espouses principles of participation, empowerment and social justice. We question then whether the genesis of the Ottawa Charter lives up to its own principles of practice. We conclude that reflexive practice is crucial to health promotion, which ought to include a preparedness for health promotion to more critically acknowledge its own history.
Keywords: Ottawa Charter; health promotion; research.