WASHINGTON » The goodbyes are beginning for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will retire when the lame-duck session ends after 22 years in the U.S. Senate.
Akaka was the first Native Hawaiian in the U.S. Senate and the second native person to become chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He has held 43 hearings during his two years as chairman, with his last one on Thursday.
Fellow senators lauded the Hawaii Democrat for his work for Indian Country. The hearing focused on preserving native cultures and identities.
Akaka grew emotional before dropping the gavel for the last time. Rather than goodbye, he said, "It is with much aloha that I say to you now, a hui hou, see you again."
Akaka, 88, a former public school teacher and principal, served in the U.S. House from 1976 to 1990, when he was appointed to the Senate following the death of U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga. He won a special election to the Senate in 1990 and was re-elected in 1994, 2000 and 2006.
He sponsored the Native Hawaiian Recognition Bill, also known as the Akaka Bill, to create a process for Native Hawaiians to gain federal recognition as an indigenous people. But proponents have been unable to gain passage of the bill in Congress.
Akaka’s website bears a message from the senator that says in part, "I am proud of my accomplishments on behalf of our federal workers, consumers, veterans and all the people of Hawaii. You have always been my first and foremost priority."
Former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado was the first Native American to become chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. An earlier version of this article said Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel Akaka was the first native person to become committee chairman.