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Public Statements

Department of Defense Appropriations Act Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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NATIVE AMERICAN AFFAIRS

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I was watching my friend and colleague Senator Akaka as he was delivering his comments earlier about Senator Inouye and the legislation that both he and our dear friend and former colleague have worked so hard on over the years, and I wanted to come to the floor this evening and tell my friend that I am deeply appreciative of the words he has delivered as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. I would certainly hope the Senate would respect the thinking the Senator has outlined as it relates to the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act.

As the Senator knows well, I have long been a supporter of that act. It is indeed an honor to have worked with him on it, as well as our dear friend and late colleague, Senator Inouye.

This legislation has been going on for some 12 years now, and I think it is fair to say that it truly has been a bipartisan effort, not only here in Washington, DC, but in Hawaii as well.

For several years, when Governor Lingle was Governor of Hawaii, she was back here helping on the Republican side of the aisle.

I firmly believe this cause of Native Hawaiians is just. The native people of Hawaii are similarly situated to the native people of Alaska. Both are aboriginal peoples from former territories. Yet the fact is that the two peoples are not treated the same for purposes of Federal Indian law. The native people of Alaska are recognized as among the first peoples of the United States. Their tribes appear on the Interior Department's list of federally recognized Indian tribes, and they have access to important Federal Indian programs that truly have improved the quality of life for Alaska natives.

The native people of Hawaii, however, are not federally recognized among the first peoples of the United States. For more than a decade now, efforts to provide Federal recognition have been filibustered, and I would suggest unjustly so.

Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka have worked valiantly to create programs for Native Hawaiians that parallel those available to American Indians and Alaska Natives, but this is not enough. Justice demands that the native people of Hawaii earn the Federal recognition that is rightfully theirs.

The time to provide parity and justice for Hawaii's native people is now. The Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which has passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I think is a responsible bill. It is a constitutional vehicle to accomplish this objective.

We began our mourning paying tribute to our friend and former colleague Senator Inouye. As we think about Hawaii and its peoples, and as we remember the contributions of Senator Inouye, and as we recognize Senator Akaka as he departs from this body after years and years of honorable service, I would hope that within this body we would not forget the efforts they have worked on so valiantly.

I will commit to my friend, Senator Akaka, that the cause the Senator has taken up, that he has worked on so hard with Senator Inouye, will not die until justice for the native people of Hawaii is achieved. I thank the Senator for his leadership.

Mr. President, I was going to yield the floor, but I would like to take a moment to provide my remarks regarding Senator Akaka and his contribution here, if I may.

DANIEL K. AKAKA

Mr. President, I rise to speak on behalf of my friend, my colleague, Senator Daniel Akaka, who is set to retire after 22 years of dedicated service in the Senate. He has been a personal friend to me, he has been a personal friend to my family, and to my parents. He and his wife Millie, a wonderful, beautiful woman, have been leaders on behalf of the people of Hawaii and have long been friends and partners to the people of Alaska.

Senator Akaka has served our Nation and the great State of Hawaii honorably for nearly 70 years. That is an incredible contribution. His service began in 1943, immediately following his graduation from the Kamehameha School for Boys in Honolulu. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had taken place a year earlier, only 5 miles from his dormitory steps. In the hours immediately following that attack, Senator Akaka, who was a 17-year-old ROTC cadet, helped his classmates search for paratroopers in the fields above his school grounds. Like so many others of his generation, Senator Akaka answered the call of duty, joined the U.S. Army, first with the Corps of Engineers as a mechanic and a
welder, and later as a noncommissioned officer.

In 1952, Senator Akaka used the GI bill to earn his degree in education from the University of Hawaii and began his lifelong dedication to our Nation's students, first as a teacher, then as a principal at a high school in Honolulu, and later with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

Senator Akaka was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 and then went on to win six more elections. It was clearly evident to the people of Hawaii within that second congressional district they valued his passion and his dedication for the office. In 1990, after the death of Senator Spark Matsunaga, Senator Akaka was appointed and then subsequently elected to the seat in the Senate that he has held for 22 years now.

Senator Akaka's fortitude and his determination have not waned in these 70 years. As the first Native Hawaiian ever to serve in the Senate, and the only indigenous person currently serving in the Senate, he is a proven champion for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. It was just in October of this year that Senator Akaka came to Alaska and was honored by the Alaska Federation of Natives with the Denali Award. This award is presented to an individual who is not an Alaska Native for their contributions to the growth and development of the Alaska Native community's culture, economy, and health. Senator Akaka has done that repeatedly over the years.

The efforts he has worked on, whether it was bigger initiatives or whether to ensure the people in King Cove had access to an airport so their lives weren't threatened in a medical emergency and they could get out, Senator Akaka has stepped up to ensure the people of Alaska are cared for.

It has truly been a pleasure to work with Senator Akaka over these past 10 years on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The chairmanship he has administered has been admired and appreciated by all of us who are on that committee.

Senator Akaka's leadership, wisdom, and grasp of issues has helped us work together toward many visions and goals that we shared. The Save Native Women Act--a bill to help protect native women and children across our 565 federally recognized tribes--was largely incorporated into the Senate version of the 2012 Violence Against Women Act. We need to make sure that legislation passes. And again, as we think about the statistics that so many of our native peoples face, we need to make certain we are making appropriate gains and strides to help address them, and Chairman Akaka has worked with us on that. We fought to ensure the preservation of native languages not only in our communities but within our classrooms.

As I mentioned, I have long supported the concept that Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka have championed with regard to Federal recognition of Native Hawaiians.

But Senator Akaka is also special to two other constituencies--our Federal employees and our veterans. He is one of this body's leading experts on some of the more arcane laws that apply to Federal civil service. Alaska's Federal employees clearly appreciate his leadership on the Non-Foreign AREA Act, which made them eligible for locality pay that counts toward retirement. This is an issue in my State that took some time to negotiate and to move through, but the Federal employees in Alaska--as they are seeing the benefits of that locality pay--owe thanks and gratitude to the work of Senator Akaka. And of course he knows well the laws that govern the U.S. Postal Service probably as well as anyone in this body.

During Senator Akaka's tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, this body has made great progress in ensuring that the VA had a budget commensurate with its needs. His contributions to ensuring that post-9/11 veterans had access to critically needed health and education resources will endure.

As neighbors in the Pacific, Alaska and Hawaii have always shared a very special bond, not only because of our geography and our time differences. Every time I endure a 12-hour flight across the country to go home--and home is four time zones away--I am reminded that it takes Senator Akaka a couple hours more and one time zone more to get home. But it is not only our geography that binds us; we have many other similarities: our indigenous peoples, the relative youth of our States, our unique landscapes, and for years our delegations have worked together across the aisle for the good of our people.

Senator Akaka's bipartisan approach, his willingness to work toward success, will be missed by myself and so many of our colleagues. And, of course, I don't think Senator Akaka would call it bipartisanship. He would call it aloha. We work in the aloha spirit.

With that, I wish to tell my friend and my colleague, mahalo. From the bottom of my heart, mahalo. I am going to miss you, Senator Akaka. I am going to miss your wife Millie and your entire extended family. But as you return home to your beloved Hawaii, know that you have left an impression on so many.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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