Northland sign language tutor Eddie Hokianga has taken up the task of ensuring the region's deaf Māori community is heard.
Hokianga (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou) has spent the last three years teaching te reo sign language to help fill a national void of interpreters fluent in the discourse.
"It is really difficult for the Māori deaf community to access interpreters. We only have a few Māori trilingual interpreters who can speak te reo and sign – it has been like that for a long time," he said.
"We need to build Māori sign language as well as New Zealand Sign Language."
Hokianga is one of a kind as he's the only deaf Māori person in Tai Tokerau undertaking this work.
A feat made more impressive given that Hokianga, who was born deaf, first needed to learn te reo himself.
"I couldn't hear te reo or hear any of that stuff. Because I can't hear it, it was much harder to learn."
He enrolled with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to learn te reo with the help of an interpreter and notetaker while simultaneously teaching his tutor sign language.
"It was worth it," he said.
Growing up, the Hawkes Bay native would communicate with his whānau using basic signs and a "bit of lip reading".
As a school kid, he and others were forbidden from using sign language at their Christchurch school for the deaf and there was no te reo taught or spoken.
He said this was because it was an "oral school", which meant students were expected to speak and lip read.
"At lunchtime, outside the classroom, there would be trees we would hide in and secretly sign when no-one could see us."
When a teacher walked past, Hokianga and his friends would immediately stop signing.
It wasn't until 1985, when Hokianga was 21, that he began to learn official sign language – the same year the country's first sign language interpreters were trained.
He said sign language was becoming "more acceptable" – it was formally recognised as a language in education in the early 1990s.
But it would take another 21 years before New Zealand Sign Language was made an official language of Aotearoa in 2006.
However, Hokianga was in full flight with the language and in 1999 started his career as a NZSL tutor in Whangārei.
Twenty-two years later he turned his hand to mastering te reo Māori sign language in Tai Tokerau and is now helping other deaf Māori access their language and culture.
He'd like to see more funding put towards supporting and growing NZSL as finances were a main barrier.
Currently, the NZSL board has a total of $1.645m per annum to allocate to activities designed to maintain and promote NZSL.
Hokianga said increased funding would boost interest in trilingual interpreter roles.
It would allow more people to professionally train in sign language, learn te reo and earn a living teaching NZSL to others.
Northland would especially benefit as a lot of people speak te reo but "not enough" knew both.
"We want to encourage Māori people to learn Māori sign language," Hokianga said.
To sign up to Hokianga's beginner NZSL class starting on October 7, visit the website: www.eddie.nz