How deaf Māori are being heard

For those Māori unable to experience the nuance of their native tongue, Stephanie Awheto is helping translate for them.

Ms Awheto is a te reo sign language interpreter working to develop and teach sign language unique to Māori.

Her work opens doors for deaf Māori to experience their culture.

"Prior to me going to train as a tri-lingual interpreter, Māori deaf didn't have any access to the marae, to the Māori culture, anything at all."

The move to develop specific sign language for te reo Māori was begun by Patrick Thompson, an advocate for the Māori deaf community who worked for more than 20 years as an educator and social worker.

He was frustrated by the lack of appropriate signs for Te Reo words such as 'hangi', which directly translated to English sign language means 'to hang someone'.

So Mr Thompson began to develop his own signs to express Māori concepts.

Thompson passed away in 2014, leaving Ms Awheto as the most senior and experienced member of a small group of te reo sign language interpreters.

The language they have developed is more visual than English sign language.

Aotearoa is signed using both hands, to form the shape of our two main islands; hangi is now signed as food being buried in the ground.

Ms Awheto says the experience of connecting deaf Māori with their culture is rewarding.

"I think that's why I've stayed at it over the 25 years, because it does feel like giving people the right to access their culture".

We asked her to teach us some important te reo words in sign language.

Watch the video to learn too.