OHA renames and expands Congressional Fellowship

Photo: Akaka Fellows
Akaka fellows with current Congressional staff, OHA staff, and former Akaka staffers at the renaming ceremony for the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship in Washington, D.C. - Photo: Courtesy

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) held a dedication ceremony last month to officially rename the Native Hawaiian Congressional Fellowship to the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship. Expanding the legacy of the first Native Hawaiian United States Senator, the third cohort’s original three Akaka Fellows were joined by two more promising young leaders. The fellows have commenced with their highly coveted placements on Capitol Hill, such as in the offices of Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI-2). In addition to the five current fellows, three members of the previous cohort of Akaka Fellows work in Washington, D.C.— two of whom are full-time Congressional staffers: one in the office of Congressman Ed Case (D-HI-1) and the other at the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The third former fellow currently shapes federal policy through digital organizing and campaign strategy.

“Senator Akaka was a powerful and unique voice for Native Hawaiians throughout his many years of service. It is fitting that the Congressional fellowship be named in his honor as its recipients continue his legacy of ensuring Native Hawaiian voices are present in critical conversations that directly affect the Hawaiian community and the entire state,” said Senator Schatz.

“I have been fortunate to participate in the OHA DC fellowship program for each of its cohorts, and thank OHA and Kamehameha Schools for their commitment to this program,” said Senator Hirono. “In the wake of this year’s recently conducted diversity survey of Senate staff, it is clear that the Senate, and likely the entire Congress, can improve representation of all our indigenous people, especially Native Hawaiians. Separately, ensuring that individuals interested in empowering the Native Hawaiian community are provided the opportunity to learn about federal policy and how to engage at the federal level is an important priority for me and will be impactful for the Native Hawaiian community as they continue to explore, among other things, self-determination. I look forward to continuing this important partnership.”

“Through the Congressional Fellowship program, sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) and Kamehameha Schools, I have had the privilege of having emerging ʻōiwi leaders serve Hawaiʻi as members of my team”, stated Congresswomen Gabbard. “They work on substantive legislation, provide insight into matters of importance to the Native Hawaiian community and on the issues before Congress, all while learning the inner workings of the Federal Government. Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka was a dear friend and a mentor. He dedicated his life to serving the people of Hawaiʻi and this country through the military, as an educator, and in the Halls of Congress. Mahalo to OHA and Kamehameha Schools for their continued commitment to this program – now named in his honor – and keeping the spirit of aloha and service that Senator Akaka embodied alive in the generations of Native Hawaiians who follow in his footsteps.”

“The Akaka Fellowship recognizes and honors the importance that Senator Akaka always placed on education, for not only advancement but its own sake” stated Congressman Case. “Both before and throughout his long service in Congress, he was first, and always, an educator. He would be very proud and humbled at this recognition of his life’s work. But even more, he would be excited for the next generations of Native Hawaiian leadership, especially in public service, that were, are and will be enabled by this fellowship. Elected public office is among the highest responsibilities and honors in our democracy, and Senator Akaka would especially encourage and welcome his fellowship starting those next generations down that path.”

The late Senator Akaka served for 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and another 22 years in the U.S. Senate – the whole time living and serving his community with aloha. During and after his time in Congress, he ensured Native Hawaiians were not only actively involved in the conversation, but also had a familiar Native Hawaiian voice advocating for our issues. With the recent passing of our beloved Senator, it is more important now than ever to continue to invest in sending strong voices to Washington, D.C. That is the mission of the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship and why OHA’s Washington D.C. Bureau prioritizes supporting the fellowship program.

Since 2017, Kamehameha Schools and OHA have partnered to fund and operate the fellowship program, which has seven alumni and five current fellows. The Akaka Fellowship is successfully ensuring that Native Hawaiians are in positions to meaningfully exercise self-determination by assisting in the creation of federal policies and programs that affect the Native Hawaiian community with the OHA Washington D.C. Bureau’s hands-on support, guidance and training. Six of the seven Fellowship alumni continue in federal-related advocacy, with the seventh currently pursuing a graduate degree.

Fellows spend nine months working in a Congressional office and receive mentorship on federal policy, professionalism and advocacy throughout their time in Washington. Fellows develop a network that will serve them in both Hawaiʻi and D.C., ensuring that those who are interested in remaining in D.C. are well-equipped to begin a career in federal policy.

Those interested in applying to the Akaka Fellowship should visit www.oha.org/dcinternships, follow OHA on social media, or call OHA’s D.C. Bureau at (202) 506-7238 to learn more.

Message of Mahalo

It is with so much joy for my ʻohana and I, knowing my Dearest Pa’s life’s work continues through the next generations dedicating themselves to the service, well-being and productivity of all our people through the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship.

Some of the greatest lessons I have learned from my grandfather is the power and beauty of the aloha spirit and how you put it to good work, in forming and cultivating relationships, bringing people together, and making for a better world for all. I look forward to meeting those in the program, past, present, future, and learning of their experiences and their next steps. This program makes possible for his legacy of aloha to live on through our youth of today and tomorrow. The experience to work in this government setting will be the best first hand education.

Mahalo a nui to all who have and continue to make the Daniel K. Akaka Congressional Fellowship possible. Through his life, his commitment and dedication to mentor our future leaders to learn and apply all that is taught at home in Hawaiʻi and beyond to kōkua and care for each other is further accomplished through this program.

On behalf of the Akaka ʻOhana, as he would say, mahalo nui loa me ke aloha pumehana”

– Trustee Kalei Akaka