Eddie Hokianga signing with raised hands in a classroom
December 2022

Keeping tāngata turi culturally connected

Tāngata turi (deaf or hearing impaired whānau) can feel cut off from things happening in their community. This includes updates about COVID-19, because there is a lot of information and it is not always presented in a way they can understand.

Hearing people tend not to recognise that the deaf community is culturally diverse. Deaf minorities like tāngata turi have their own cultural needs, which they can share through Māori Ringa Tohu Reo (NZ Sign Language with Māori sign concepts). This helps them connect in with the hearing world they live in, and to prevent them from feeling disadvantaged and marginalised.

An understanding of the importance of Māori Ringa Tohu Reo is slowly building, along with the huge need for more interpreters to ensure that whānau are able to connect, learn and support one another.

Eddie Hokianga has been deaf from birth. He didn’t learn to sign until his teens as they weren’t allowed to use their hands to sign and were forced to lipread at his school. Later in life he learned sign at a deaf club and went to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to learn te reo with the help of an interpreter and notetaker. He is passionate about creating more awareness of Māori sign language concepts and the need for a trilingual culture where it becomes much more common place.  

Eddie took up the task of growing te reo sign language interpreters because there are so few. “It’s difficult for the Māori deaf community to access interpreters and sadly it’s been like that for far too long,” he said. “I start to build Māori Ringa Tohu Reo matauranga through wānanga and online but this needs to be equitably supported so we can create impact. It’s tough finding the funding support to teach whānau but those who are taking it up show a real commitment to learn, especially the tamariki who pick it up fast.”

“During COVID-19 it was great when we saw the sign language interpreters sharing messages but in terms of everyday communication it was hard. Just on a social level it can be challenging so it would be great if we could have more access to Māori sign language concepts. 'Watch Us' is a great website that whānau can use to connect with the wider deaf community in sign language. There are lots of important perspectives about COVID-19 from tangata turi on there.” 

Kim Robinson, MNZM of Deaf Action NZ says, “There is still a long way to go to make sure the cultural needs of tāngata turi are met. We campaigned for the use of the NZ Relay Service to help deaf people communicate over the phone and ensure they can get the information they need. NZ Relay Service was unable to provide services during COVID-19 because it isn’t a formal requirement even though Māori is an official language. I look forward to seeing advocacy in this space because not only is it an official language it is key to whānau whaikaha wellbeing.” 

Watch a video about Eddie’s story: Signing through the computer connects tāngata turi.


Learn more about Eddie’s work.

Māori Ringa Tohu Reo matauranga

Check out the Watch Us website.

Watch Us

Read the article on the NZ Relay Service not being able to provide Te Reo Māori during lockdown.

NZ Herald