In May, Hawai‘i paid tribute to the late Senator Daniel Kahikina Akaka in public memorial ceremonies. OHA had an opportunity to give our aloha to Aunty Millie and their ‘ohana. In paying my final respects to Senator Akaka, I was overwhelmed with emotions as I recalled this great man and our many years working together for the future of Native Hawaiians.
Senator Akaka’s dedication to Native Hawaiians, and his landmark legislation to extend parity in federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, was paramount in his career. So much so that it was a key theme in the final words in the U.S. Senate in December 2012. This continuous excerpt below shows Senator Akaka’s full intent of these words, his legislative legacy, and a career’s commitment to self-determination for our people.
“I am proud to be the first Native Hawaiian ever to serve in the Senate, just as I am so proud to be one of the three U.S. Army World War II veterans who remain in the Senate today.
The United States is a great country. One of the things that makes us so great is that though we have made mistakes, we change, we correct them, we right past wrongs. It is our responsibility as a nation to do right by America’s Native people, those who exercised sovereignty on lands that later became part of the United States. While we can never change the past, we have the power to change the future.
Throughout my career I have worked to ensure that my colleagues understand the Federal relationship with Native peoples and its origins in the Constitution. The U.S. policy of supporting self-determination and self-governance for indigenous peoples leads to Native self-sufficiency, resulting in our continued ability to be productive and to contribute to the well-being of our families, our communities, and our great Nation. That is why I worked to secure parity in Federal policy for my people—the Native Hawaiians.
The United States has recognized hundreds of Alaskan Native and American Indian communities. It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to have the same rights, same privileges, and same opportunities as every other federally recognized Native people.
For more than 12 years now, I have worked with the Native Hawaiian community and many others to develop the Native Hawaiian Reauthorization Act, which has the strong support of Hawaii’s Legislature and Governor as the best path forward toward reconciliation.
My bill has encountered many challenges, but it is pono— it is right—and it is long overdue. Although I will not be the bill’s sponsor in the 113th Congress, it will forever bear my highest aspirations and heartfelt commitment to the Native Hawaiian people, the State of Hawaii, and the United States of America.
I know I am just one in a long line working to ensure that our language, our culture, and our people continue to thrive for generations to come. I believe Hawaii has so much to teach the world and this institution. In Congress and in our Nation, we are truly all together, in the same canoe. If we paddle together in unison, we can travel great distances. If the two sides of the canoe paddle in opposite directions, we will only go in circles.”
OHA faces great opposition in the work we do to empower our lāhui. However, in taking example from our beloved Senator Akaka before us, we will not waver and we will not let forces hinder us from accomplishing what we know to be pono. We must unite and holomua forward.