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Speech

NZSL in Action Awards

Issue date: 
Saturday, 18 May 2013
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

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NZSL: Hello and welcome.  My name is Jerry Mateparae and I am the Governor-General of New Zealand.  Thank you for inviting me to the NZSL in Action Awards here tonight.

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi katoa tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou tēnā koutou katoa.  Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, greetings to you all.

I specifically acknowledge: Robert Hewison, President of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand; Lachlan Keating, Chief Executive of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand; and Susan Hamilton, my co-Patron.

Thank you again for inviting me here for the 2013 New Zealand Sign Language in Action Awards.  Unfortunately, my wife Janine is unable to be here tonight, and she sends her warm regards to you all. 

As co-Patron of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand and as joint Patron of the New Zealand Federation for Deaf Children with my wife Janine, I am delighted to be here for this special event to celebrate New Zealand Sign Language.  Tonight is also special because, although the awards are in their fifth year of celebration, tonight the NZSL in Action Awards are being celebrated as a gala dinner.  Tonight, as with NZSL Deaf Week more generally, this gala dinner is an opportunity for the Deaf community to stand proud as Deaf and to say well-done to those who support and promote their language and culture.

I am also pleased to be here tonight because there has been a close association between Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand and the office of the Governor-General.  The first patron of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand was my predecessor Sir Keith Holyoake.  Seven years ago, on 10 April 2006, my predecessor Dame Silvia Cartwright gave Royal assent to the New Zealand Sign Language Act.  The next day NZSL became an official language of New Zealand.   The pathway to that momentous day was fraught with challenges.  Its achievement speaks of a community of resilient and committed people.

For a century, educators had forbidden the use of sign language in schools for the deaf, and it was derided as not being a “real language.”  Despite this narrow-mindedness, and with little official support, New Zealand Sign Language developed as a distinctive and rich language.  The situation was well described by the American civil rights leader Rev Jesse Jackson who speaking from an American perspective said: "The problem is not that the students do not hear.  The problem is that the hearing world does not listen."

In New Zealand, the hearing world finally began to listen in 1977.  This organisation, established by Deaf to meet its community needs in November 1977, proved to be a fundamental turning point in the development of the Deaf community in New Zealand.  Since then, Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand has been at the forefront of promoting NZSL and supporting and advocating for the more than 24,000 people who use the language every day.  

With statutory recognition of NZSL, has served to give Deaf and hearing impaired people greater confidence in being active participants in our society.  Deaf people are more confident and comfortable with using their language, and asserting that the Deaf have a distinctive linguistic and cultural community whose language deserves recognition and respect. 

Initiatives such as NZSL Week, the translation of our national anthem into New Zealand Sign Language, and the launch of an online English-NZSL dictionary, in association with Victoria University, have all helped to raise the profile of the language.  Adding a Te Reo Māori-to-NZSL translation recognises both Te Reo Māori’s status as an official language of New Zealand, and the higher than average proportion of Deaf people who are of Māori descent. 

Ironically, it was in the midst of disaster that New Zealanders became most “deaf aware.”  The use of NZSL interpreters at media conferences following the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake generated a national awareness about the rights of the Deaf community and their need for information.  And yet, while much has been achieved, as the 2011 Review of the NZSL Act showed, much remains to be done.  The implementation of the Act has at times been patchy and the expectations of the Deaf community have not always been met. 

That is why these awards are so important.  They highlight people and organisations that are making a difference in promoting NZSL.  The awards acknowledge the significant contribution made by businesses, organisations, schools and individuals throughout the country in supporting both NZSL and the New Zealand Deaf community.

As Governor-General, and your Co-Patron, I congratulate Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand for organising these awards and for the on-going efforts for New Zealand’s deaf community.  I also congratulate the nominees in the 8 award categories and especially the winners whom we will meet tonight.  I am especially looking forward to congratulating the winner of the 2013 NZSL Champion of the Year Award.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 18 May 2013

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