Turi-Deaf Māori: How we've banned together during COVID Pandemic

By Aroha Mane

Sign language interpreters, disabilities service and social media have been key to keeping the Turi (Deaf) Māori community informed and mobilised during COVID-19. Te Ao spoke to members of Tū Tangata Turi, the Māori Deaf collective.

Sign Language Interpreters have been instrumental in keeping the Turi (Deaf) community informed throughout Covid-19.

“I’ve really appreciated having the interpreters there and tasking a risk with their own health to go there and sign for the PM. It’s really helped us to understand what’s happening, what things mean, what level 4 rules are, what level 1 rules will be and we’ll be able to do. We’ve really appreciated that effort that’s gone on for our behalf,” says Tanesha Sleeman (Ngāi Tahu).

Sleeman is part of the Tū Tangata Turi. She says the online technology has allowed for Turi Māori to connect during the pandemic.

“One of the really good things is that someone set up a Facebook page called Deaf Positive New Zealand and that’s got a variety of cultures and people. We’ve been able to have really good contact with other deaf community members through there. The other weekend a Māori Deaf person set up a zoom conversation where we were able to chat and say how are you feeling, are you doing ok.”

Sam Te Maari, a board member at New Zealand Sign Language and Tū Tangata Turi, has been working to get better outcomes for Māori.

“We’ve only so far been able to get one amount of funding which is from mental health but it would be really good from here if we are able to use this opportunity. It’s really good to work together as a team and to focus on what Māori deaf are doing, how we can do to facilitate that development and working on understanding our roles better as a board.”

Te Maari says there are still inequalities for Turi Māori and hopes to address these through their claims.

“It's been a first step for us to work together through a treaty claim process, so that process is going on at the moment and it's a case of lobbying government. But also possibly Te Puni Kōkiri to hear us Māori Deaf because it's easy to be ignored and it's hard to get people to listen to us.”

Tū Tangata Turi will take their claim to the tribunal next year.