U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, spoke Thursday at the annual Native Hawaiian Convention at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Akaka has spoken at every Native Hawaiian Convention since its inception in 2001, and this was his last one as a sitting U.S. Senator, as he retires in January.
Akaka is the first Native Hawaiian ever to serve in the U.S. Senate and third to serve in Congress.
Akaka’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Aloha! It is so good to be home! Mahalo for inviting me to join you at this year’s Native Hawaiian Convention.
Mahalo nui loa to Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Chairman Alvin Parker and President Robin Danner for their leadership in organizing this annual convention. Mahalo nui loa to all of you, who are attending this convention in record numbers.
By coming together as a community, to listen to different manao, kukakuka, and holo i mua, we can achieve this year’s convention theme: “Moving Forward — Our People, Our Land, Our Spirit.”
I am so proud to say that I have joined you here at this convention every year since the beginning. As you know, after 36 years of service in Congress, I am retiring at the end of this year.
Throughout my career, I have been inspired by the leaders who came before me. I hope to inspire the leaders who will follow. I’m proud to be the first Native Hawaiian in the U.S. Senate, and even more proud to be the third to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
After Hawaii was annexed to the United States of America, Robert Wilcox was elected as a territorial delegate to the House in 1900. Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole represented Hawaii from 1903 to 1921.
Both men had been jailed with Queen Liliuokalani and sentenced to death for trying to reinstate the Queen after the illegal overthrow. But they didn’t give up, they used the American political system to help our people.
They were elected because Native Hawaiians voted and made sure we had representation in the United States Congress.
In the early 1900s, these men lived in times of deep segregation in the United States, when Hawaii was still reeling from the aftermath of the illegal overthrow and rapid political change.
Both Congressman Robert Wilcox and Congressman Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole found motivation to work toward self-sufficiency for our people so that we could once again thrive, be productive and contribute to our families, our communities, and our island home.
Throughout my career in Congress, I have built upon the achievements of these two men, and I have drawn inspiration and courage from them. Through it all, I have carried our culture and our aloha with me.
I have tried to remain focused on what is pono, and set my goals around what can be achieved in the spirit of lokahi.
I have seen so many changes in Hawaii and across the country, and I have been amazed at the resiliency of our Native Hawaiian people, our culture, and our language.
Since I was a boy, the United States has grown and evolved. I have witnessed profound change in the status and treatment of all indigenous peoples.
Gone are the days when teaching our language was banned, when our culture and traditions were deemed unimportant. We now know that our language, culture, and traditions hold incredible wisdom about how best to live in this place we call Hawaii.
This Congress, I have had the great pleasure and responsibility of leading the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. I have focused on strengthening the identities of Native peoples, and their ability to protect their homelands.
I have worked with my colleagues to make sure they understand the federal relationship with Native peoples and its origins in the Constitution.
When it was written, the broad terms Indian and tribe were used in the Constitution to mean indigenous peoples, with their diversity of unique cultures, languages and traditions. Each with their own ways of governing themselves.
The consistent use of these terms Indian and tribe results in the federal government treating all federally-recognized Native peoples equally, with the same tools to address the unique needs and priorities in their own communities.
It is long past time for the Native Hawaiian people to have the same rights, the same privileges, and the same opportunities as every other federally-recognized Native people. That is why I am working tirelessly to secure parity in federal policy for our people.
My bill, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, gives us full access to the prevailing federal policy on self-determination, and the ability to once again exercise our right to be self-governing.
For more than 12 years, I have worked with our community and other stakeholders to develop the terms of this bill.
I have listened carefully to all sides, and I am determined to do what is best for all of Hawaii, by ensuring Native Hawaiians a true avenue for reconciliation.
Last month, the Indian Affairs Committee passed my amended bill, which builds upon State of Hawaii Act 195 that created the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission. The amendment removes the sections of my bill about creating and certifying the roll of qualified Native Hawaiian constituents, because that process is already underway here in the islands, and streamlines my bill down to its essential parts.
As Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, this version of the bill represents my best manao on how to secure the future of our people, by ensuring we are afforded the same rights and opportunities as all other federally-recognized Native peoples — no more, no less.
I was proud to be the first person to sign up for the Kanaiolowalu registry – the new roll of Native Hawaiian voters. If you haven’t already, I urge you to do the same, to participate in this incredible process to re-organize our Native Hawaiian government.
I’m told there is a booth here where you can sign up, or you can visit their website. I truly believe that as the indigenous people of Hawaii, our ability to chart our own course and define our own future will never be secure until we have parity with all other Native peoples.
My amended bill sets a proper foundation for the reorganization of a Native Hawaiian government, which will have a government-to-government relationship with the United States and the State of Hawaii. This version of my bill is the best way forward.
In these changing times, it is critical that all Native Americans – American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians – continue to stand together, and move forward together, to advance Native sovereignty and self-determination in the United States. There is strength in solidarity.
Native self-governance leads to Native self-sufficiency, resulting in our continued ability to be productive and contribute to the well-being of our families, our communities, and our great nation.
It is in this spirit that I worked to secure passage of the Apology Resolution. I will continue to fight every day I am in Congress for passage of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.
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 understand my kuleana is to advance our rights, and to help prepare the next generation to take up their kuleana – to advance the causes of our people.
I think often of our beloved Queen Liliuokalani, her character, and her words.
She said: I could not turn back the time for the political change, but there is still time to save our heritage. You must remember never to cease to act because you fear you may fail.
These words have guided my conduct and service over the years.
Serving as your Senator has been my greatest privilege, honor, and duty. I am thankful to all the people of Hawaii for putting their trust in me. This voyage we are on together, advancing the cause of our people, is far from over.
Like those who set the course before you: Grab your paddle and hoe a mau. There may be rough seas along the way, but I am confident that you possess the ability to successfully navigate our people into the future.
It is important to remember to live Hawaiian values, draw courage from those that have come before you, and focus your work on advancing self-determination and self-sufficiency.
Prepare yourself, learn new skills, work hard, so you can make contributions to your community, to your state, to your country, and to our people. Strive to extend aloha in all you do.
You will find it returned to you.
E ke Akua hoomaikai ia oukou. E ke Akua hoomaikai ia Hawaii. E ke Akua hoomaikai ia Amelika. God Bless you, God Bless Hawaii, and God Bless the United States of America.
Me ke aloha pumehana, a hui hou.