Q and A

Image: Courtesy of Rep. Heather Giugni

Hawai‘i’s newest legislator may also be its most modern

Rep. Heather Giugni is a fresh face in the Hawaii State Legislature, having been appointed by Gov. Abercrombie on Feb. 16 to fill the vacant seat for House District 33. A third-generation resident of ‘Aiea, Giugni has shown a strong life-long commitment to education, technology, media, arts and culture, agriculture and sustainability. She is also a founding member of ‘Uluulu: The Henry Kuualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawaii–named after her father, the US Senate’s first sergeant-at-arms of Polynesian heritage and a close political confidante of Sen. Daniel Inouye. The Weekly met with Giugni to talk about all the above.

What do you consider to be some important issues on the table this session, and where do you stand?

I believe that we should be off fossil fuel. I support the whole effort of [increasing] photovoltaics and the efforts of creating healthier farms and supporting farmers. I’m very supportive of our agriculture; I think it’s really key to get behind our farmers. I love MAO Organic Farms and I love back-yard gardens. In the old communities, everyone had a little garden going.

I believe in open land. I would prefer high-rises to any more subdevelopment communities. I just believe that we need the open land to grow; I think we should grow food. I don’t want to see the few open swatches of land covered. I’m all about sustainability.

People usually just talk about sustainability in terms of agriculture, urban planning and energy.What is the ‘Uluulu project and how does it sustain Hawaiian culture?

‘Uluulu is about preserving 100 years or more of our cultural moving images. Our moving images tell the story of who we are, what we thought about and what things looked like at that time. And, going forward, it’s how generations learn.

People wanted to preserve these films and videos, but they didn’t have the wherewithal to do it, nor did they know what the future looked like. Nobody understood how important it was to create a safe base for our moving images because those moving images are a historical document of our past. If you think about the history that has been thrown away inadvertently, it’s pretty amazing.

[‘Uluulu] doesn’t just preserve the Hawaiian community and the Hawaiian stories, but it preserves all of our stories as a community as a whole. I think it’s imperative that we have a safe base for that right now, and we’ve been fortunate enough to start with this archive effort, which is going to be physically at UH-West Oahu Library and online. The intention is public access. This is going to be primarily an educational resource.

It’s about remembering your place, and who you are, and where you come from and what has happened. It’s honoring ancestors, it’s honoring movements. It’s reminding us all of what was done before and who did it.

How do you think production and digital media have evolved in their ability to influence the political dialogue?

I think that video makers and media activists helped create the foundation of Hawaiian education in the schools. Our intention was to archive our history and to get the story documented. I don’t think we really thought about how it was going to be part of the movement that was really going to help educate on a wider level. And that’s what took hold, and that’s what grew.

It didn’t just grow from that particular Hawaiian movement, but it grew from social messaging, and changing the landscape through this new platform that was known as video. But it was only able to get into the hands of a few people, because in those days–this was way before iPhones–cameras were very expensive and very large.

What kinds of lessons have you taken away from your father’s political life and his close friendship with Sen. Inouye?

Always envision the future. They never forgot where they came from; they never forgot the names of the people that helped them. So it’s about people, and it’s about future. It wasn’t just about tomorrow or today, it was about what things would be like in 20 years.

When the legislation started to help create the Hokulea, who knew it was going to be an educational symbol that would carry an entire community’s pride around the world? The people who were creating it knew. Everyone has a responsibility and everyone can make a difference, I really believe that.

What kind of difference would you like to make now that you’re in a position to do so?

I did not want to end up here [in the Legislature] necessarily, but I felt compelled at the time–when I threw my name in the choices–that there needed to be a democratic voice that continued.

I’d like to think of myself as a progressive voice here in the Legislature. I’ve come into a new school of learning and I’m getting to meet my classmates. I’m the kind of person who sees the strengths of people and what good they do. I try to navigate around that in order to get the important points across.

What strengths do you bring to the House?

I’m a passionate person when it comes to the things I believe in. I believe in civil rights, I believe in human rights, I believe in inclusion of all people. I’m very passionate about that. There are voices here that have the same views, but it doesn’t hurt to add another.