How do you write a speech for a group of people whose preferred language is not English? Whose preferred language is not spoken but transmitted in sign?

I'm talking about a request I recently had to speak at a National Maori Deaf Hui, held at the ornate Whakapara marae.

Deaf culture is a strong and vibrant life-force that Deaf people revere and preserve as is their right.

Deaf culture has many nuances that I can relate to; the importance, for example, of maintaining eye contact when you're speaking to a Deaf person through an interpreter.

Don't stare at the interpreter; a Deaf person once told me this was the equivalent of talking to a guide dog when talking to a Blind person.

Maori Deaf culture has yet another layer of uniqueness and this added to the complexity of my speech writing.

Thinking about these attributes jolted me into a semi-epiphany on what to write. In a nutshell, we are the same but different.

So here is a synopsis of the speech I was privileged to give to Maori deaf last Sunday.

My intro kicked off with: Some of you who don't know me may wonder why a white boy who is hearing, who is a little bit shaky, is speaking at a National Maori Deaf hui.

I then went on to give a very brief whakawhanaungatanga which pointed out my diverse and somewhat disconnected background of having northern English parents, being born in Fiji, having a Kiwi wife, etc, and pointing out my envy of Maori who have a sense of historical belonging and knowledge of their turangawaewae.

Then I pulled out the old quip about 'CP' obviously standing for Cool Person as well as Cerebral Palsy.

Then there was a brief account of my career path which inadvertently landed me working in the disability sector. I explained this was something I vowed I would never do.

However, you do need to pay the bills (I said in a coy streetwalker fashion), and for once in my life I found myself in a job where my disability was an asset.

I told them about the establishment of Tiaho Trust. After a few years the opportunity came to establish an organisation run by disabled people for disabled people.  Tiaho Trust was born and I got the job as CEO.

Now it was time to bring things to a close and highlight the common factors. I talked about a needs analysis Tiaho conducted in 2006 to help lobby the government about the need for a kaupapa Maori service for Deaf Maori.

It wasn't successful, although we did get a good snapshot of Deaf Maori in Northland, marginalised by not only being Deaf in a hearing society but often alienated from tikanga Maori. 

I was on the home run as I spoke about how I believe strongly in the need for disabled people to have self determination - tino rangatiratanga; to have their own voices heard to have services led by the same people they are serving.

Here I pulled out my somewhat over used analogy: You don't see the Ministry of Women's Affairs being run by men. 
You don't see Te Puni Kokiri being run by Europeans. Why is the disability sector so different?

Tiaho Trust has gratefully received funding from the New Zealand Sign Language Board to work with Maori Deaf to teach and promote the use of NZSL. 
Who is going to run these wananga for Maori Deaf? Maori Deaf of course. Eddie, Mita, Mihaka. 

It was time for the grand finale. I called Eddie, Mita and Mihaka up to the front with me. All three are Maori Deaf leaders. 
All three are giants, and the visual difference between me and them is obvious - allowing my final line to work: As you can see we are very different but the same.

Read online at the Northern Advocate here.

Downloadable pdf below:

Available Downloads Type Size
I hear you, brother pdf 223 KB

Published 13/06/2017

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