Pursuing Possibilities with Māori Deaf
Deaf Aotearoa’s Māori Advisory Group was established in September 2020, initially set up with a focus on whānau with Deaf tamariki (children) in our First Signs service, and the work is now growing.
Growth in Māori Deaf leadership is vital and part of our vision, with Deaf Aotearoa staff Richard Peri and Miiria Storey taking the lead. Richard is the Māori Deaf development Officer for the community – he is involved in resource development and guiding the work that the Māori Advisory Group are doing with whānau with Deaf tamariki. For many years he has advocated for the Māori Deaf community. Miiria, who is also proud to identify as Māori Deaf, provides services to community members of all ages throughout Aotearoa.
The Group meets weekly and arranges fortnightly ‘Zui’ gatherings – a hui (Māori get-together) held online through Zoom – for whānau with Deaf or hard of hearing children aged 0-5years. Each session is family-centred and accommodates what the whanau want to learn, including fun activities in NZSL in a Māori context, from pepeha (sharing one’s traditional Māori introduction) to waiata (singing, or in our case sign-singing). Facilitating these meetings gives our people insight into where support is needed, and gives whānau opportunities to meet, explore, and learn from role models including our Māori Deaf employees and leaders.
Stephanie Awheto, one of few Māori trilingual interpreters in Aotearoa, is equipped with many years of experience working between English and Aotearoa’s two official languages, NZSL and Te Reo. She is a valuable advocate for the Māori Deaf community and takes a regular part in the Zui meetings. Other members of the Group include First Signs Facilitator and NZSL Interpreter Beryl “Harri” Harrison whose father is fluent in Te Reo, and she is currently in her fourth year studying Te Reo; First Signs Team Leader Natasha Cloete, a support to the Group with her strong advocacy for Deaf leadership, and whānau with Deaf tamariki; and NZSL Information and Resources Team Leader Daniel Harborne, who brings in different perspectives and coordinates resource production. The team are proud and dedicated to working with Māori whānau to support their Te Reo and NZSL development at home.
It is critical to support the families’ foundation of knowledge, weaving Deaf culture, Māori culture and their Māori identity together, through exchanges of skills, experiences and stories. Connections formed through the Zui are highly valued, with more whānau all around Aotearoa asking for further opportunities to join and learn together. The Zui has been opened up to new families who are not fluent in Te Reo but have a commitment to develop Te Reo alongside NZSL. We have received a wealth of positive feedback on the Group’s work so far.
“One thing I have valued on this journey was the importance of communication and the building of relationships. This platform has given my whānau and myself a way of expressing our relationship with Te Ao Māori in the form of reo rotarota (New Zealand Sign Language).”
“It is a platform where I can interact with other Māori whānau striving to support their Deaf tamariki. It’s important to me to be a part of a community in this journey and this is the only place I feel I am able to do this specifically for Māori. I have found it really inspiring and insightful. Without these hui I often feel isolated as a parent of a Deaf child.”
“This learning style is amazing for all of us… we have felt hunger, we have felt weakness, and we know that our children and grandchildren are silent. They are unable to feel the depth of the language, the intricacies of the language. But through these lessons, they will hear… now is the time for adults to stand up and support children and grandchildren so that their language is not silenced.”
Families have expressed they want to see more Māori Deaf adults in mentor positions as well as more trilingual interpreters in places like the marae. We would love to welcome more whānau, with Deaf tamariki, from all over Aotearoa to join First Signs, connect with others on a similar journey, and develop further possibilities for the future of Māori Deaf individuals. We continue to work on resources ranging from waiata (songs) and karakia (prayers), to Matariki, which New Zealanders will first experience as a public holiday next year.