WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel Akaka, long an advocate of native peoples, found a like-minded audience Friday.

No, it wasn’t in Hawaii, or here in the nation’s capital. Instead, it was in Anchorage at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

“Alaska and Hawaii have a long, successful relationship working together. And you know that. Both in the halls of Congress, and at home in our communities. I am proud of all that we have accomplished together,” said Akaka, who is retiring after 14 years in the U.S. House and 22 years in the Senate.

“As I prepare to leave Congress this January, I’m confident that the close collaboration and partnership we’ve had between Alaska and Hawaii will continue.”

Mixing Hawaiian words like aloha, pono and lokahi with Native Alaskan greetings, farewells and thank yous, Akaka focused on the partnerships he’s enjoyed with Alaska’s political leaders throughout the years. He wore a sealskin vest and was presented with gift that longtime Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka said was “more valuable than gold” — 25 pounds of salmon.

Akaka touched on themes of self-determination and self-sufficiency and thanked Alaska’s congressional representatives — the late Sen. Ted Stevens and former Sen. Frank Murkowski, current Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Don Young — for always supporting the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, known as the Akaka Bill.

And even though that bill has yet to pass, Akaka says things have changed dramatically for native peoples in recent decades.

“Gone are the days when our languages were banned, and they did that in Hawaii, too. When our cultures and traditions were deemed unimportant or worse, considered liabilities. That is changing,” he said. “We have proven time and time again that our native cultures and traditions hold incredible wisdom about how best to live in harmony and build a sustainable future.

“In these changing times, it is critical that all Native Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, continue to stand together and move forward together to advance native sovereignty and self-determination in the United States,” Akaka said to applause from the crowd. “In these two days I’ve heard so much of that being mentioned and that’s great, because we need to continue to use that because there is strength in that solidarity.”

Akaka noted that many in the audience appeared to be in two- or three-generation families, and had a specific message for young people in attendance.

“Live your native values. Draw courage from those who come before you. Focus on your work, on advancing self-determination and self-sufficiency for all native peoples. Strive to extend aloha, love and respect, in all that you do. You will find it returned to you, as I’ve found it also in my work.”

On Thursday, Akaka was honored by the federation with the Denali Award, its top honor for non-Alaska Natives who have contributed to the growth and development of the Alaska Native Community’s culture, economy, and health.

DISCUSSION: What do you think of the relationship between Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives?

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