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Marae visit highlights challenges the deaf face in connecting with Māori culture

A visit by a group of Southland students to a marae has highlighted the challenges faced by deaf Māori who want to connect with their culture.

About 30 students with hearing loss from throughout Southland visited Te Tomairangi Marae in Invercargill on Tuesday to spend a day learning about tikanga Māori (Māori cultural practices).

van Asch Deaf Education Centre Invercargill resource teacher team leader Jill Meikle said the day at the marae was about giving the students the opportunity to connect with Māori culture.

Some of the students who visited the marae were profoundly deaf and others were totally reliant on New Zealand Sign Language.

Deaf people had their own culture and they tended to strongly identify themselves as part of the deaf community, Meikle said.

For deaf people who identified as Māori, there was a real challenge to connect with their own culture, she said.

There was an increasing population of deaf students and a need for those who identified as Māori to understand who they were within both cultures.

What the students were being told at the Invercargill marae had been translated from Te Reo to English, then into sign language by an interpreter and some of the context gets lost in translation, Meikel said.

van Asch Deaf Education Centre maori cultural adviser Kaitakawaenga Jillian Scammell said the biggest challenge deaf Māori faced was getting access to cultural knowledge.

They could not hear and understand the deeper nuances of what their culture means, which they needed to develop their own self identity, Scammell said.