The retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka took to the Senate floor on Thursday and urged his colleagues to approve a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
The bill, known as the Akaka bill, has passed the House three times but has stalled in the Senate since 2000 because of opposition from conservative Republicans who consider it race-based discrimination. The bill would recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with the right to self-determination, similar to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
From the Hawaii Democrat’s prepared text:
Mr. President, I rise today as my friend, my colleague, my brother, Dan Inouye, lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda just a few yards from where I stand now.
In life he received our nation’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, and today he is receiving a tribute reserved for just a handful of American heroes like Abraham Lincoln.
I come to the floor today to speak about an important piece of legislation that I developed and worked on with Dan Inouye for over twelve years.
Today, in Dan’s honor, and for all the people of Hawaii, I am asking the Senate to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.
Dan and I developed our bill to create a process that could address the many issues that continue to persist as a result of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893.
As you know, Dan Inouye was a champion for Hawaii and worked every day of his honorable life to solve problems and help our island state.
Dan also served on the Indian Affairs Committee for over 30 years and chaired it twice. He was an unwavering advocate for the United States’ government-to-government relationships with Native Nations. He constantly reminded our colleagues in the Senate about our Nation’s trust responsibilities — and our treaty obligations — to America’s first peoples.
Dan believed that through self-determination and self-governance, these communities could thrive and contribute to the greatness of the United States.
When asked how long the United States would have a trust responsibility to Native communities, he would quote the treaties between the United States and Native Nations, which promised care and support as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
Dan Inouye’s sheer determination to improve the lives of this country’s Indigenous peoples and make good on the promises America made to them — led him to introduce more than 100 pieces of legislation on behalf of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.
Dan Inouye secured passage of the Native Hawaiian Health Care Improvement Act, the Native Hawaiian Education Act, the Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act, and the Native Hawaiian Homeownership Act.
He was instrumental in helping me enact the Apology Resolution to the Native Hawaiian people for the suppression of their right of self-determination. It was enacted on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
In 1999, Dan and I worked together to develop the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act to give parity to Native Hawaiians.
For over 12 years we worked together to pass the bill to ensure that Native Hawaiians have the same rights as other Native peoples — and an opportunity to engage in the same government-to-government relationship with the United States already granted to over 560 Native Nations throughout the country, across the continental U.S. and in Alaska. But not yet in Hawaii.
Our bill affords Native Hawaiians the same tools to achieve self-sufficiency as other Native communities—tools that already exist under federal law—no more, no less.
Over the years, people have mischaracterized the intent and effect of our bill, so let me be plain. For me, as I know it was for Dan, this bill is about simple justice, fairness in federal policy, and being a nation that acknowledges that while we cannot undo history, we can right past wrongs and move forward. To us, this bill represented what is pono, just and right.
Our bill is supported by President Barack Obama and the U.S Departments of Justice and Interior. It has the strong support of Hawaii’s Governor and the State Legislature, and a large majority of the people of Hawaii.
Our bill has the endorsement of the American Bar Association, the National Congress of American Indians, the Alaska Federation of Natives, and groups throughout the Native Hawaiian community.
As a Senator and senior statesman, Dan Inouye advocated that Congress do its job and legislate where Native communities were concerned. Dan Inouye believed that a promise made should be a promise kept.
In the days since my dear friend Dan’s passing, there has been a tremendous outpouring of love from Hawaii and every other state in the union. And Native communities across the country are mourning the loss and paying tribute to their great champion.
Dan Inouye’s absence will be felt in this chamber and the nation for many years to come. May his legacy live on for generations of Native Americans and inspire all Americans to always strive towards justice and reconciliation.
I urge my colleagues to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, in memory of Senator Daniel K. Inouye and his desire to provide parity to the Native Hawaiian people he loved so much.
And to Dan, I say: Aloha ‘oe and a hui hou, my brother.