Kaiu Kimura: Of the Next Generation of Hawaiian Leaders

Pacific Business News recently wrote about Ka‘iu Kimura: People Who Make Hawaii Work: Kaiu Kimura.

“Ka‘iu is representative of the next generation of Hawaiian leaders,” says Richard.

“I saw her defend her convictions at public hearings having to do with the Comprehensive Management Plan for Mauna Kea,” he says. “She is very strong, and it’s why I support her as strongly as I do. I could not be more proud of her.”

The Waimea-born and -reared Kamehameha Schools graduate is, at age 31, interim Executive Director of Hilo’s ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

I had a chance to speak with Ka‘iu the other day.

Q. When did you start at ‘Imiloa, and in what position?

A. It was the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center then, in 2001. I was hired as a research assistant to help develop Hawaiian content.

Through the exhibit development phase, there were a lot of discussions, meetings, and focus groups with various community stakeholders and experts. It was a real educational process for me. For the first time, members of the Hawaiian, astronomy and business communities had to sit down and plan this center that was going to be for the general public, with a mission to really excite local youth about science and technology and the opportunities that exist here on the island. And also to talk about Mauna Kea and its uniqueness with all these different communities – particularly Hawaiian and Astronomy communities.

Q. What were the challenges?

Everybody had different ideas and different interpretations about what the center needed to be, and how to communicate to the community. It was valuable and difficult all at the same time. It got to be really challenging at the end.

In 2006, when we opened the doors, that was a major step. We’d made it through the planning stage and we had a product; something that came out of all that, because of the collaborative approach we took.

Q. What are you working on now?

I just came back last week from a conference in San Diego. It was about bringing Native American people together with scientists and the science center community.

We shared the process of how we built the center. You don’t have to divorce yourself from your culture or from your cultural values if you’re interested in pursuing science and technology. In fact, because you have those values and that cultural perspective, you can enrich the direction science is going. It made me realize more so that ‘Imiloa has a responsibility to take this kind of perspective to the science community.

I know there will always be a variety of opinions about any future development on that mountain. Many opinions won’t change; they’ll stay the same. But the goal is about relationship building. Coming to the table and saying what you need to say. To help educate both ways. Sharing with the community is about. The average person has been left out of that conversation in the past. The role of ‘Imiloa is to open up the conversation to more people.

It’s all a part of the education process. If people don’t understand about that mountain, and why it’s so revered and unique, then how can we say we’re all about educating the youth and getting them excited about science?

‘Imiloa is here because Mauna Kea is such a special place. I think it’s all about the kuleana thing. Go after your dreams and ambitions, but also understand the community you come from and the history, and know you have the kuleana to give back to it.

Q. What are your next goals?

Our big goal is to increase our attendance. We’ve had a wonderful growth in attendance. We average 53-55,000 people a year. Eighty-five percent are kama‘aina. That’s been great. Our challenge is, and will always be, to create fresh programs and activities and exhibits and planetarium shows to keep our kama‘aina people engaged and wanting to come back for more. That’s a major priority.

We also want to grow that 53-55,000. We want to double that. Our core mission will always be to inspire and excite the youth of Hawai‘i, our next leaders. And we’d also like to increase our offshore numbers, and impact the rest of the world. We think Hawai‘i can really serve as a strong model internationally.

Q. What would you like people to know about ‘Imiloa?

What is unique about ‘Imiloa is that it’s a result of massive collaborative effort of people in the community. I’m very, very aware we have a lot of work to do, and that there are a lot of ways to strengthen what we have. But I think it’s a very good first step to sharing the Hawaiian culture, and in bringing our culture together with science and in particular with astronomy.

‘Imiloa shares a great story of exploration. That’s what ‘Imiloa means: To explore, seek new knowledge, make new discoveries, new landfall. It’s a great place to come and learn about exploration, and how people in Hawai‘i have explored in the past, and how it continues today and for the future.

It’s unique to us here in Hawai‘i, but also, on a human level, every culture has histories and culture and innovation. It’s about tying those together with where we’re heading in the future.