The deaf community in Saskatchewan is always having to defend the legitimacy of their language and culture. The continual emphasis upon having to justify our existence over and over again, to repeatedly plead with governments for recognition, support and resources, and to attend meetings which are largely populated by hearing people and include very few deaf representatives concerning the needs of deaf people does something to our psyche. We get worn down, we become more and more passive, we pass the job to hearing people who figure they can represent us better than we can represent ourselves. So they get the media attention and talk for us, think for us, and advocate for us. We’ve become too tired and too sad. Dai O’Brien (2017), a deaf academic, wrote:
it is time for deaf academics and deaf communities to consider, as Smith (2003) put it, “what it is that we want, what is that we are about and to ‘imagine’ our future (sic).”
Annelies Kusters, Maartje De Meulder and Dai O’Brien. Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars (Perspectives on Deafness) (Kindle Locations 1598-1600). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
What we deaf people want, what is that we are about to become and to imagine our future is our job. We must do this apart from hearing people who think they know us better than we know ourselves. We can’t be distracted by these “faint hope meetings” with our current government who has ruthlessly slashed funding to heritage languages, preschools for deaf children, and hearing aid plans. We need to go in a different direction. We need to regroup, huddle up and think more clearly as to what our focus is going to be. We must imagine the future we want, we must imagine what the deaf community is going to look like, and we must remain true to our collective values. And we must do this away from hearing advocates who purport to be our allies.
Who is in our community? Parents. We need to work with them. We have parents who are willing to learn ASL, to embrace the deaf community values, and who are willing to fight for their child’s right to language. To date, I have seen two Saskatchewan ardent parent activists pushed out of the community because they were too “radical”. This is a HUGE mistake. We are still stuck in our old ways, trying to defend our existence and thereby maintaining the purity and integrity of our community. We need to work alongside the parents who are in our deaf community, who have demonstrated over and over again a strong, deep commitment to us. They are our true allies. We deaf and the parents need to imagine together what the deaf community will become. This calls for a new way of doing things. We can’t be going to these endless meetings, with our hands outstretched for more. We need to think about what we can do for ourselves rather than what the government should be doing for us. Those days are long gone.
Lest the government should be dancing for joy at this statement, wait until our MLAs are aged or have loved ones who are ill, disabled and living in nursing homes limited by lack of support from funding frameworks. What goes around will come around to them. They are not able to imagine a future for themselves or anyone else. If they were able to do this work, then the cutbacks wouldn’t have happened.
In the meantime, we must search for ways to become more fully who we are as deaf community. Deaf Crows, and the magic show video made by John Warren is a powerful and fragile beginning.