After 36 years in Congress and thousands of speeches, Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka delivered his farewell address on Capitol Hill today.
Tears flowed as dozens of current and former staffmembers filled the Senate gallery to listen to Akaka's goodbye speech.
The retiring Senator leaves Congress the same way he arrived – with a nod to the islands. "My goal was to bring the spirit of aloha to our nation's capital in everything I do," Akaka said on the Senate floor. "I hope I succeeded in sharing a little bit of Hawaii with all of you."
In this farewell speech, Akaka urged colleagues to keep fighting for America's war veterans. "Caring for them is one of our most sacred obligations as a nation."
And to the very end, he's pushed another passion: the same rights and opportunities for Native Hawaiians as other indigenous groups have. While the Akaka bill never passed, the Senator still believes federal recognition will come. "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."
Accolades for the 88 year old have been going on for weeks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "He has taught us all about history, of Hawaii, and its native communities, as well as the issues facing indigenous Hawaiians today."
"I would say to Senator Akaka, 'Well done, my friend. Aloha Oe'", says the Republican Senator from Wyoming, John Barrasso.
The holidays are approaching, but as long as lawmakers grapple with the fiscal cliff, Senator Akaka will remain in Washington until they hammer out an agreement. His last official day is January 3rd.
It was an emotional day for dozens of staffmembers, past and present. After his speech, they threw their boss a surprise party and say he thanked each one of them, as well as his wife, Millie, his family, and all the employees on Capitol Hill.
He saved his final thank you for Hawaii constituents. "It truly was the experience of a lifetime. All I ever wanted was to be able to help people, and you gave me that opportunity," Akaka continued in his speech.
As he left the Senate floor, in true Hawaiian tradition, there were no goodbyes - just an 'until we meet again'. "A hui hou," he said. "Madam President ... I yield the floor."
Hawaii News Now is proud to present a special, half-hour tribute called "Daniel Akaka: The Aloha Statesman". Our first showing: this Monday, December 17th at 6:30 on KGMB-TV. It will be rebroadcast on Tuesday, December 18th at 6:30 on KHNL-TV.
Transcript of Sen. Akaka's Speech:
Mr. President, before I begin, I would like to take a moment to wish my good friend, my colleague of 36 years, my brother, Dan Inouye, Hawaii's senior Senator, a speedy recovery and return to the Senate.
Mr. President, I rise today to say aloha to this institution. I have been honored to be a member of the United States Senate for 22 years. It has been an incredible journey that I never imagined.
As a senior in high school going to Kamehameha School for Boys, which was noted as a military school, my life was changed forever when I saw Japanese fighter planes attacking Pearl Harbor. Like most men in my generation, I joined the war effort. My path was forever altered.
When the war ended, I believe I was suffering from PTSD.
It was an act of Congress that allowed me, and the veterans of my generation, to build successful new lives.
Congress passed the G.I. Bill. And I say with certainty that I would not be standing here before you today without the opportunity the G.I. gave me, not only to get an education, but to have structure and a path forward, and the feeling that there was a way for me to help people.
This proved to me that when Congress acts responsibly, it can build a better America.
That is why, when I was blessed with the opportunity to lead the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I dedicated myself to helping our servicemembers and veterans and their families, and worked with my colleagues to expand VA services and pass a new 21st Century G.I. Bill.
So I want to take this moment to urge all of my colleagues, and all of the incoming Senators and Representatives: do everything you can for our veterans and their families, because we asked them to sacrifice so much for us.
They put their lives on the line while their wives and husbands watched over their families. Caring for them is one of our most sacred obligations as a nation.
And not everyone on the front lines making our nation stronger wears a uniform.
In many critical fields, the federal government struggles to compete with the private sector to recruit and retain the skilled people our nation needs: experts in cybersecurity and intelligence analysis, doctors and nurses to care for our wounded warriors, accountants to protect taxpayers during billion dollar defense acquisitions. These are just a few examples.
After I leave the Senate, it is my hope that other Members will continue to focus on making the federal government an employer of choice. We need the best and brightest working for our nation.
The work of the United States Congress will never end. But careers come to a close. Like the great men whose names are etched here in this desk, I am humbled to know I have left my mark on this institution.
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 United States' 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 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 Alaska Native and American Indian 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.
For more than 12 years, I have worked with the Native Hawaiian community and many others to develop the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which has the strong support of the Hawaii's legislature and governor as the best path forward towards 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.
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. I urge my colleagues to take this traditional Hawaiian symbol to heart, and put the American people first, by working together.
I want to say mahalo nui loa, thank you very much, to my incredible staff. After 36 years there are far too many individuals to name, so I will just thank my all of my current and former staff members in my Senate and House offices, and on my committees, including Indian Affairs, Veterans' Affairs, and subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia.
I want to thank the hundreds of employees who work for the Architect of the Capitol and the Sergeant at Arms. Without the hard work they do every day, we could not do what we do in the Senate.
Mahalo, thank you, to the floor and leadership staff.
I also want to thank Senate Chaplain Barry Black, who has provided me so much guidance and strength, and has done more to bring the two sides of this chamber together and find common ground than just about anyone.
And there is no one I owe more to than my lovely wife of 65 years, Millie. She is literally there for me whenever I need her.
Nearly every day that I have served in the Senate for the past 22 years, Millie has come to the office with me. She helps me greet constituents, she makes me lunch, she keeps me focused, and she makes sure I know what is happening back home.
She means the world to me. Every honor I have received belongs to her and my family. This speech is their farewell speech too. Mahalo Millie and my ohana, my family.
In life, there are seasons.
While leaving Congress is bittersweet, I am looking forward to spending more time with our five children. Getting to know our fifteen grandchildren, and, can you believe this, we are expecting our sixteenth GREAT grandchild next year. And I will be home to see it.
And I am looking forward to speaking with students and mentoring up and coming leaders, and visiting places in Hawaii that I have worked for over my career.
My goal was to bring the spirit of Aloha to our nation's capital in everything I do. In Hawaii, we look out for one another, we work together, and we treat each other with respect. I hope I succeeded in sharing a little bit of Hawaii with all of you.
As I come to the end of twenty-two years in this chamber, and a total of thirty-six years serving in Congress, I offer my profound gratitude and humble thanks to the people of Hawaii for giving me the opportunity to serve them for so many years.
It truly was the experience of a lifetime. All I ever wanted was to be able to help people, and you gave me that opportunity. Mahalo nui loa, thank you very much.
In Hawaii, when we part, we don't like to say goodbye. Instead, we say "a hui hou," which means "until we meet again."
Though I am retiring, I see this as the start of a new chapter, a new season.
And I am blessed have made friendships and partnerships that will last forever.
God bless Hawaii, and God bless the United States of America, with the spirit of Aloha.
A hui hou.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.