Māori Deaf Gather

Last year on Queen’s Birthday weekend, Hamilton man Hemi Hema was honoured for his tireless work advocating for opportunities for Māori Deaf.

This Queen’s Birthday weekend he was showing that his great work continues – facilitating a hui for Māori Deaf from throughout Aotearoa aimed at focusing on new beginnings for their community.

In supporting the hui, Te Puni Kōkiri acknowledges the potential of all Māori.

“We recognise that our whanaunga have needs as deaf people, and also as Māori,” says Te Puni Kōkiri Deputy Chief Executive Herewini Te Koha.

“For Ngāti Turi we wanted to support their work to identify and address their dual needs,” he says.

Initiatives discussed at the hui included the need to increase the number of tri-lingual interpreters and to build on advances in technology to benefit Māori Deaf.

Hemi lists technology giving more access to information in New Zealand sign language as one of the key changes in society that has helped Deaf people in recent years.

And indeed, it is the email technology that enabled Kōkiri to interview Hemi ahead of the hui at Te Tokonganui a noho Marae at Te Kuiti.

It is important to Hemi that the hui was held on a marae, as one of its key aims was to work through ways which marae and Deaf communities could work together as one.

Research released two years ago shows that many Māori Deaf felt isolated from their iwi – due partly through being sent away to school, and because of their whānau’s inability to communicate with them to pass on whakapapa and other learnings.

“We would like our whānau to be able to support us more, including learning sign language,” says Hemi.

“Whānau have a role to support their Deaf whānau members and ensure they understand who they are, what their whakapapa is on both their parents' sides, which iwi they belong to, which marae they belong to and the protocols on those marae. Who are their kaumatua?

“You should try and involve your Deaf whānau in decision making and discussions around things like tangi, whānau assets and developments on the marae.

“And if your Deaf whānau have been gifted land or other assets – don’t take it away from them, but work alongside them to help show them what to do. Get professionals in to help if you need – like interpreters.”

If you want to get in touch with an interpreter, or need advice about how to tautoko Deaf whānau, visit www.deaf.co.nz/nz-sign-language where you’ll find all you need.