Stephanie Awheto — Aotearoa-New Zealand’s first trilingual interpreter — has died.

A long-serving advocate for the Māori deaf community whose work spanned three decades, she helped bridge the gap for turi Māori to reconnect with te ao Māori.

Alongside the late Patrick Wikiriwhi Thompson, a prominent turi Māori advocate and educator, Awheto helped create and modify signs to reflect te ao Māori, such as hāngī, a word that initially took its action from the English word “hang”, was changed to demonstrate the way the kai was cooked.

In 2021, she told Q+A that “for any Māori to know who they are, to have a sense of belonging, is really important, and that’s no difference for Māori deaf”.

That same year, she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

Awheto was honoured at the 2024 Deaf Awards with Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Rotarota — an award that recognises a lifetime of service.

Her tangihanga would be held at Oeo Marae in Taranaki.

Glossary

Turi Māori – Māori deaf

Te ao Māori – Māori world(view)

Tangihanga – funeral.

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