POSTED: 11:48 a.m. HST, Jan 14, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 01:24 p.m. HST, Jan 14, 2013
Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka today became the first recipient of the Aloha Order of Merit award from the state Legislature and the governor.
Akaka, who retired earlier this year after having served in the U.S. Senate for 22 years, was lauded as a true statesman of Hawaii and the embodiment of the Aloha Spirit.
"To me, the Aloha Spirit exemplifies what makes Hawaii so special, so unique in this country," he said.
The Aloha Order of Merit was established by the Legislature in 1993. It recognizes individuals who have "distinguished themselves nationally or internationally and who contributed to the attainment of statehood or have provided extraordinary service to, devoted themselves to the betterment of, or brought honor to the state."
Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, chairman of the selection committee, called it one of the highest honors bestowed by the state.
Akaka served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1976 to 1990, when he became the first Native Hawaiian to reach the U.S. Senate. Akaka, also the first Polynesian-American senator, was appointed after the death of Spark Matsunaga.
Akaka served as chairman of the Senate veterans affairs committee from 2007 to 2011, then became chairman of the Indian affairs committee.
He retired after not running for re-election last year, opening Hawaii's first U.S. Senate seat in a generation, and was replaced by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono.
Honorees are allowed to serve as emissaries for the people of Hawaii if requested by the governor. They're selected by a committee and approved through a concurrent resolution in the Legislature.
The ceremony included a medal presentation, a chant and prayer by Akaka's son and musical performances.