7x21 - Cha’nel Kaa-Luke (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngā Ruahine, Ngāti Porou.)
7x21 explores life at 21 with 7 young wāhine and irarere. Here's the amazing Cha’nel Kaa-Luke !
How would you spend $50?
I would go to a shop and buy a book.
You identify as she/them. When do you use different pronouns?
It depends on how I’m feeling which will reflect how I am dressing on that day. If I’m feeling more reserved, masculine or a feminine way, then I pick based on that. Then I tell those close to me on the day and they will adapt to the pronouns for the day.
When you were in your teens, what did you think life would be like at 21?
I had no idea. I didn’t think I wanted to go to uni so assumed, at 21, I would be at home with my parents. I couldn’t imagine moving out into the world.
And being 21, what’s that like?
When I first started uni, my dad passed away and from that time onwards I had a lot of changes in my life. I grew up quite quickly. So, now at 21, I am in a different mindset from my friends at the same age. Living independently, studying and having a job doing something I feel passionate about this early. Looking back that's quite a lot by the age of 21. I’m happy where I’ve come from.
What’s the best thing about being turi (Deaf) for you?
My language and my community. Until I was 13, I didn’t know any sign language at all and from then on, I got immersed in the Deaf community and that’s when I understood what Deaf meant, and what it meant to belong. The language and the community is the best part.
What’s the hardest part?
You’re always having to fight for yourself and others — you’re a lifelong advocate. That’s hard but also something that I love — pushing boundaries and getting accessibility. It’s a lot of work but very fulfilling knowing you are making changes for those who come after you.
What’s the best thing about being Takatāpui?
Being Māori, it’s nice to feel that I’m part of a whānau, the land. It’s of high value to me. Being queer and part of the rainbow community, I know there is no judgement. The attitude is about being open, and whoever you are. I haven’t found the language to connect with the Māori world yet, partly because of access. I only learnt the term Takatāpui this year.
How do you find meeting people who don’t know you’re Deaf?
Sometimes, when people don't know how to approach me they're like, ‘can you talk?’ and I make a joke. I might point to my ears in a comical way telling them I’m Deaf. It relaxes the moment and makes it OK for them to talk to me.
Does signing help you express who you are?
Yes. When I sign it feels more authentic to me rather than when I speak. I know who I am and feel more connected, and am able to express myself clearly. People can recognise me better and I’m able to convey myself more accurately. It’s not like I don't use my voice but I feel when I use it I’m not getting myself across well. My brain is working a million miles an hour so using NZSL I am able to keep up.
Who are your heroes?
It’s not one person. I have a boss who is awesome. Even my friends – their determination to be the best version of themselves, they all have something special about them. Also, my mum. She’s been a fantastic teacher and wherever I am she’s always supporting and advocating and speaking for me, helping me be who I want to be.
My mum always says she wants to be like me when she grows up. Which makes me laugh. She’s in her 40s now.
When you look back on 13 yr old you, what would you say?
I would say, just grab every opportunity that you can. Don’t be shy about it. And don’t feel you have to compare yourself to others because eventually you will understand why we are the way we are, and the problems we’ve had in the past. One thing I struggle with is comparing myself. But everyone’s on their own journey, it doesn’t matter what others are doing. Eventually my 13-year-old self will realize this too.
Does social media add to the comparison?
Yeah. When I found out I was in the Y25 last year, I decided to cater my social media to myself. As I didn’t want to be disappointed that I was missing out or showing off I was doing things to the right people and spaces. I feel bad about myself less often and have realised how much time I was scrolling. There’s a lot of politics and criticism and rubbish I don’t need in my life, so this small minimisation helped.
What’s been surprising about becoming an adult?
Life just happens and you get on with it, a problem comes up and you solve it. I think I am a bit more motivated than other people and it comes from the need to prove to myself and others that I can do things equally. That has spurred me on through my journey.
If you could wish for one thing to change right now in NZ what would it be?
Get our land back. That’s the top one. The second one would be access to NZSL in schools.
What are the most pressing issues facing young women and non-binary folk today?
With the spaces I’m involved in I want to say it’s about accessibility and letting people know how they can engage before they become unengaged. For example, I was invited onto a board and felt I couldn’t jump on until they understood who I am and how they need to communicate with me. I can contribute to that space but first I need to get those accessibility needs sorted.
What’s one word or term to sum up how you feel about the future?
Brave. Be brave to get into the spaces I want to be in and grow my confidence without the need to prove myself to anybody.