Waitangi Tribunal told of abuse against Māori deaf community

Abused as children for using sign language and blocked from accessing te ao Māori.

That was the experience of many growing up in the Māori Deaf community, who are now taking part in a landmark Waitangi Tribunal hearing this week in Auckland.

Their claims are part of a wider inquiry into Crown breaches of Te Tiriti o Waitangi relating to Māori health.

While being formally welcomed onto Papakura Marae this morning, a trilingual interpreter put the pōwhiri in their language.

It's a rare service many Deaf Māori, or tāngata turi, still can't access.

"Trilingual interpreters are our only way to access te ao Māori," said tangata turi claimant Karen Pointon.

"We don't want to be isolated from te ao Māori, so trilingual interpreters are very, very essential. But there's a very small number of them."

In fact, there are just three in the country, with no formal pathway or course to be trained as a trilingual interpreter.

Tāngata turi would like to see an independent entity led by their community to ensure there is more targeted resourcing and funding to support their needs.

They also envision more funding for education institutions to provide more pathways to becoming an interpreter.

"We need more resources and money in our hands so that we can set up and implement Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to deliver the course so that we can become those fluent te reo speakers," said Pointon.

Many Deaf children in the 60s, 70s and 80s were sent to special education facilities where sign language was prohibited.

The impact on Māori was particularly profound because they couldn't access te reo there either.

"Tāngata Turi were forced to assimilate into a European oralist culture where sign language was banned and children were punished for using sign," said claimant lawyer Emma Whiley.

"Access to te ao Māori for these children was non existent."

Many claim tāngata turi were treated differently at these facilities.

"Teachers would tell us, they would warn us, that if your naughty, you will get the strap," said Pointon.

"I have such clear memories of the threat and the strap."

Haamiora Te Maari, another member of the tāngata turi community, agreed.

"From what I saw, when Pākehā students were mischievous or got into trouble in any way there was a system at the school, but not for the Māori students," he said.

"We weren't understanding what was happening. It was all Pākehā and English."

The disparities don't end there.

Māori are over represented in the New Zealand Deaf population and their mortality rate is four times that of hearing non-Māori.

"The Crown has failed to provide a response that reflects this reality or upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi," said Whiley.

Tāngata Turi are a community who have faced adversity all their lives.

Now they're fighting so the next generation won't have to.


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