Services held for first Native Hawaiian elected to Congress, Daniel Akaka


The first Native Hawaiian elected to Congress was memorialized during May at the state Capitol, where he lied in state for 24 hours.

Sen. Daniel Akaka died during April at the age of 93 after being hospitalized for several months.  Hawaii Army National Guard soldiers carried the late senator’s casket to the Capitol rotunda, where members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha, other Hawaiian royal societies and state lawmakers paid their respects to Akaka’s family.

The Royal Hawaiian Band played the senator’s favorite song, “Hawaiian Lullaby.” The Akaka family planned services at the Capitol and at Kawaiahao Church with both ceremonies opened to the public. Irene Hirano Inouye, widow of Akaka’s fellow longtime colleague the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, said in a statement her husband had tremendous respect and admiration for Akaka. “He would often remark, ‘When you open a dictionary, next to the word Aloha should be a picture of Dan Akaka,”’ she said. 

Akaka “demonstrated, every day, that governing can and should be done with kindness, empathy and respect,” she said.  The Democrat served 14 years in the U.S. House before he was appointed to replace Sen. Spark Matsunaga, who died of cancer in spring 1990. Akaka won election that fall for the rest of Matsunaga’s term, and voters sent him back for consecutive terms until 2012, when he chose not to seek re-election. Akaka once said his main accomplishment in Congress was obtaining federal funds for Hawaii for education, energy and Native Hawaiian programs.  Born in 1924, Akaka grew up in a devoutly Christian home in Honolulu. He was the youngest of eight children of a Native Hawaiian mother and a Hawaiian-Chinese father. 

After serving in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, Akaka earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at the University of Hawaii. He was a public school teacher, principal and program specialist for 18 years before becoming director of the Hawaii Office of Economic Opportunity in 1971.  Akaka is survived by his wife, Mary Mildred “Millie” Chong, four sons, a daughter and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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