Local woman preserves New Zealand’s history
Three of the most historic documents from New Zealand’s history were moved to a new home last month, and Waterloo High School alumna Laura Hicks was part of their special ceremonial journey.
Hicks is an archivist in New Zealand, and the documents were moved to become part of an exhibit at the National Library of New Zealand in a ceremonial procession presided over by Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.
“The documents were being moved into a new exhibition called He Tohu (The Signs) for the next 25 years,” Hicks said. “The old exhibit at Archives New Zealand was opened in the early 90s, so it was time for an updated look at the documents. They will still be under the care of the chief archivist, just in a different space.”
Hicks carried the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, which established a Māori confederation to deal with foreign governments.
“Once it was signed in 1835, the chiefs met every year in Waitangi, which is where the more famous Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Both of these documents are still very important in protecting Maori rights in New Zealand and in being an example for indigenous rights worldwide,” Hicks explained. “Many talk about the treaty being a ‘living document,’ which New Zealand is still trying to fulfill. The third document, the suffragette petition, is amazing because it led to New Zealand being the first country to give women the (right to) vote.”
Māori elders, called kaikorero, escorted the documents for their overnight journey across the city of Wellington. They performed karakia, blessing the archivists and the documents on their journey.
“As we walked to the National Library the elders led the way and continued to recite karakia. Archives staff followed close behind as we are the kaitiaki (protectors) of the documents. Then came the rowers, who held back the other guests and represented the waka (the canoe-like traditional form of Māori transportation). We were then led into the library by warriors, making sure the way was safe.”
When they arrived at the library, kaikorero representing the various Māori tribes, or iwi, gave speeches and traditional songs, waiata, were sung to show support.
“Luckily they had translators, because all of the speeches were given in Te Reo Māori,” Hicks said.
Hicks also has some pretty impressive responsibilities at her day job at Archives New Zealand.
“(I) retrieve and return documents from the stacks; (we have around 50 miles of shelving over four levels). We also digitize material for researchers who can’t make it to Wellington,” she said. “I quite like the mix of physical and desk work and you can always find something interesting in the files you handle.”
Hicks’ own journey to New Zealand wasn’t quite as choreographed as that of the documents she helped transport, but it has taken her places most only dream of going.
After graduating from WHS, she double-majored in archaeology and German at Tufts University, graduating in 2011.
She earned her master’s degree in historical and maritime archaeology from the University of Bristol in England in 2016.
She also spent time on an archaeological dig in Belize and worked as an au pair in Germany. But the reason she ended up in New Zealand is the oldest — and probably best — story in the book.
“My wife is from New Zealand, so I just followed her here,” she said.
Hicks is working on her residency visa and said she and her wife plan to stay.
“The stunning nature of New Zealand is what I like the most. I am only 20 minutes from numerous beaches, waterfalls, hills and cliffs,” she said.
Hicks is the daughter of Bob and Audrey Hicks of Waterloo.