This column was guest written by Jeremy “Kama” Hopkins.
United States Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka (September 11, 1924 – April 6, 2018) has been described as “The Aloha Statesman.” He was the first U.S. Senator of Hawaiian descent. He was a kanaka filled with aloha and he exemplified “Servant Leadership.” Throughout his years in public service, from the classroom to the halls of Congress, he treated everyone with aloha. He was a man who truly was…Hawai‘i.
In Congress, he sponsored legislation that led to looking back at the service records of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Infantry Battalion during World War II. As a result, Medals of Honor were awarded to some of those men who fought in those units. He championed legislation leading to a payment to members of the Philippine Scouts who did not qualify for Veterans Administration benefits. He helped Native Americans push forward to attain Federal Recognition. He led the way for the passage of the “Apology Bill” signed by President Clinton in 1993, which some say may have been his greatest accomplishment in Congress.
There are those who challenged his service in Congress and said that his accomplishments were not significant. He was described sometimes as weak. Those who knew him, served with him and worked for him knew different. His longtime friend and colleague, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, once said in an interview with Hawaii News Now, “…those people are wrong. He [Sen. Akaka] is quiet, but strong. We work together.” Senator Akaka always said these types of negative statements come with the job. He always responded with kindness and continued doing the work the people of Hawaii needed done. It was a trait that many have said has disappeared from politics.
Some will remember him for a bill that never passed…the “Akaka Bill.” Although he was disappointed it did not pass, he was thankful that it brought Native Hawaiian issues to the forefront. Not all agreed on the direction Native Hawaiians should go, but all agreed that something needed to be done and he will always be remembered as someone who pressed ahead for the rights of the indigenous people of this land, our Native Hawaiians.
Although his congressional career included these political ups and downs and more, he was always quick to say how much he loved his family, his ‘ohana, and that he constantly tried to create a better future for them and for all who called Hawaii their home. He looked forward to spending more time with his family after announcing in 2012 that he would not seek re-election and would retire from the U.S. Senate after his term ended. The latter part of that year would be bittersweet as his friend, longtime colleague and “brother,” U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, passed away. An era of Hawaii representation in the U.S. Senate came to an end that year and a new era began with the appointment of Lt. Governor Schatz to the U.S. Senate and the election of Congresswoman Mazie Hirono to the U.S. Senate.
Upon his return to Hawaii, Senator Akaka continued supporting Hawaii however and whenever he could by participating in functions supporting education, the elderly, veterans affairs and a myriad of other initiatives. However, his family came first. He spent time with them and really got to know his grandchildren and great grandchildren. This was something that he enjoyed along with his wife, Millie.
In our eyes, his life of service and aloha was his greatest accomplishment. He set a great example for us to follow. We will miss him. Aloha…