Deaf Indigenous Consultant
As an Aboriginal/South Sea Islander Deaf woman I have been fighting stereotypes all my life, juggling my identities and making sacrifices that have impacted on every decision I have made in my day-to-day activities. I started my life in a racist community in Queensland, and the impact of the racism my family faced continues today. It was the driving force behind my mother ensuring that I had good speaking skills. I learned a lot from my observation skills, and in the midst of being removed from my family and subjected to trauma and oppression, my deafness wasn’t noticed until I was eight years of age.
I work as a Deaf Indigenous Community Consultant. Through leadership and interpersonal skills development, my work is to give back to community, imparting knowledge that can be shared amongst families and strengthen the individual.
My identity as an Aboriginal/South Sea Islander woman is part of my history and it is my responsibility to share this knowledge with my families and kin. My identity as a Deaf person is also part of who I am. I cannot be without sign language to communicate. I grew up in the 1980s where Auslan was not commonly used in Queensland, and we were forced to learn Signed English to assist us in understanding the English language. As a consequence, it took me 20 years to be fluent in Auslan.
Identity is important to our development as a person, whether it’s culturally based or personally driven by our lifestyle. It is also about being proud of who we are in the face of adversity. When our identity is secure, we nurture it, we defend it, we celebrate it and we live by it day to day. I know that it took me a while to feel secure with my identity because I listened to too many people telling me to choose how to define it.
The prevalence of hearing loss amongst Aboriginal people is at epidemic levels. In some communities up to 80-90% can have some type of hearing loss. This is caused by many factors including limited access to appropriate health care, poverty, being unaware they have a loss and acquired loss due to ear disease.
Many Aboriginal Deaf people are not offered the same opportunities as others in society. This is often due to limited resources and the availability of people to work effectively and culturally with the community. There are many examples of this happening in the justice and child protection areas across the country. The rate of incarceration of Deaf Aboriginal people is one of the highest in the world, as is the removal of Aboriginal children who have any form of disability, particularly hearing loss.
Many Deaf people are continuously fighting to keep their sign languages preserved and as a member of the Deaf community, I see the richness of sign languages first hand. There are 55 different Aboriginal signing systems across Australia, however there are only 12 that are recorded by researchers. Many of the systems are used in context of the community and often can not be used outside of those communities.
Those who are Deaf sign using a combination of cultural signs, signs taught from other Deaf people, or from what they have learned in school, be it Auslan or Signed English. Aboriginal signs used today are strongly connected to culture, country and kinship; and the influence of Auslan and other signing systems is to fill the gaps.
The importance of cultural sign languages is often overlooked as an effective communication tool. People need to be aware that their acceptance as viable languages will help drive change, and will in turn result in a more equitable society.
Having a sense of belonging is the true benefit of being connected to who you are and what you do as a cultural Aboriginal person or as a Deaf person. You are not asking for acceptance, you are not seeking approval, and you are not compromising your true self. A sense of belonging allows you to develop and grow, and for your family and community to be stronger.