Posted on

Oneida sign language created to connect deaf community with their culture

A grandmother is working to preserve the Oneida language for others — even though she has never heard it spoken herself.

Marsha Ireland, 59, has been deaf all her life. She’s a member of the Turtle clan from Oneida Nation of the Thames, near London, Ont..

Ireland recalls times when her condition left her feeling very disconnected, especially at community meetings.

When someone at the meeting spoke in Oneida, the sign interpreter had to stop, leaving Ireland and other deaf community members out of the conversation.

 Deafness is often hereditary:  Both there’s another reason Ireland wanted to help develop a sign language for Oneida.

She wants to pass along her Indigenous culture to her five adult children, who are also deaf. The condition is often hereditary.

“I feel that it is also important for me as a mother to teach my children. They need to know their culture and their heritage,” said Ireland.   

Developing the signs

The signs are being developed as part of a pilot project at the Oneida Language and Cultural Centre.

Marsha and her partner, Max Ireland, work with master speaker and elected councillor Olive Elm to create the signs.