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Sharples: New Zealand Sign Language Bill

New Zealand Sign Language Bill

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader Maori Party

Thursday 6 April 2006

Na te ngutukura ko te hinengaro,

na te hinengaro ko te mahara,

na te mahara ko te whakaaro,

na te whakaaro ko te korero,

ma te korero ka tu he tikanga

From the mind comes the stimulation of the memory, the memory stimulates the thought, from thoughts come words, from the words we construct customs.

Me Speaker in this House today we are again recognising custom, the custom of ensuring that the language of the world of silence attains its proper place in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The Maori Party is extremely proud to stand today, to herald the arrival of the New Zealand Sign Language Bill.

The Bill provides for the official recognition of New Zealand Sign Language with the purpose of giving it proper status and of giving the deaf access to interpreters for legal proceedings. We are delighted that the Bill encompasses the capacity to interpret from Maori and/or English into New Zealand Sign Language.

We come to this Bill, recognising the vital significance of language as a means of accessing the world.

In our world, te Reo Mäori is the cornerstone of all that is Mäori. Accelerating the revival of te reo Mäori is therefore a central focus of the Mäori Party.

We try to promote and support te reo Maori in all that we do - including within this House.

For we believe that the expression of a people, of their uniqueness, of their beauty, is portrayed through their language.

It is with that thinking in mind that I was delighted to give the thumbs up to a group of deaf friends I met earlier this week at the Lincoln Green Tavern in Waitakere. We embrace the opportunity for the language of this land to be broadened, to be enrichened with the sounds of silence.

I draw on our association with te reo Maori deliberately, as I am aware that internationally, deaf communities have drawn from experiences of other minority communities.

I believe the Maori Language Act in Aotearoa provides an excellent resource to assist the deaf community in identifying possible pathways for mobilising and monitoring their agenda.

I am hopeful that the progress we have made with te reo Maori, in terms of language transition and maintenance, will help to strengthen their pathways forward as the deaf community, including the Maori deaf.

The Bill provides that government departments should, “so far as reasonably practicable”, consult with Deaf Community on matters affecting their language, and that sign language be used to promote government services and give information.

It is about literally giving voice to the voiceless:

Kia whai reo te waha ngu

To give language to the silent

For Maori Deaf, official recognition increases the likelihood of being able to use sign language at hui, at marae, at tangi, and to increase their access to te reo, to customs and genealogy.

As past chairman at Hoani Waititi marae in Auckland, I am proud of the very long and successful relationship we have enjoyed with the Kelston Deaf Education Centre, and we recognise Ruamoko Marae as a valuable, living part of that school.

Indeed, we pioneered signing in te reo on our marae and at Ruamoko, understanding the vital importance of enabling access to cultural knowledge which is transmitted in te reo.

In mentioning Hoani Waititi, Kelston and Ruamoko I want to highlight the significance of deaf communities receiving the right support they need to develop their own community initiatives.

And I do want to point out the crucial need for acknowledging the specific communities of Maori deaf. The National Audiology Report shows that of those children who fit audiometric criteria, a staggering 49% were Maori.

Audiometric criteria are defined as children under the age of 18 with congenital hearing loss, or any hearing loss not remediable by medical or surgical means, and which requires hearing aids and/or surgical intervention.

The acquisition and maintenance for Maori deaf, adults and children, and their whanau, is therefore essential for their voices to be heard. If we are so over-represented in the notifications, we must also be well represented by Maori teachers, signers, court interpreters for schools, for television, for marae; indeed for our world. Deaf Maori need Maori signers.

In my colleague Tariana Turia’s speech at the first reading, she raised the concerns the Maori Party has about the inability of the Bill to adequately address the issue of trilingual interpreters and to recognise trilingual interpretation (Maori-Sign-English).

The debate at the first reading stage through to committee stage, reiterated the concern of most of the parties in this chamber, about the demand for interpreters outstripping availability.

It is a demand which is particularly urgent for Maori communities.

There is a desperate need for competent and qualified trilingual interpreters, to ensure access for Maori Deaf into Maori communities where te reo Maori is spoken.

This Bill must be followed with follow-up actions for the urgent need to recruit, train and retain Maori student interpreters.

While we fully support the right to use New Zealand sign language in court and legal proceedings with a competent and qualified interpreter, we want to see that same support provided for Maori to communicate in the world outside of the courtroom.

We want to ensure that New Zealand Sign Language is a part of our everyday experience, and we know that organisations like Te Roopu Waiora, the Deaf Association, and the Maori deaf community will continue to advocate to ensure Maori deaf are able to receive that same support.

The Bill has not addressed the issue of access to services beyond courts, including kaupapa Maori services. Proper access to inclusive social, housing and health services is critical for Maori Deaf and is a huge factor in addressing chronic poverty levels.

Let’s not just stop at the courtroom -why not have access to the whole world?

Mr Speaker, there are occasions in this House when the Maori Party has risen to speak on a Bill, and has found that only one or two submissions were received. We have questioned, quite logically, what is the level of support to justify the Government initiating such a change, with any reliability?

In this case, however, a massive 195 submissions were received and all, one hundred percent, the whole lot, were in support.

Indeed, many thought it hadn’t gone far enough.

Finally, the Maori Party wants to congratulate the Minister, Honourable Ruth Dyson, for taking up the challenge of fostering this Bill through the House. Tena koe te tuahine, e Ruth.

As those of us in this House who look back fondly to the sixties will know, Simon and Garfunkel conclude one of their most popular songs with the message:

"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence”.

Mr Speaker, this House the prophecies and prayers of the deaf community are coming through to fruition. We are proud to be part of this historic moment.


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