Akaka to Chair Indian Affairs Committee
By Wendy Osher
U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka will assume the Chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Akaka, who has been an advocate for Native Hawaiian Rights, has been trying to pass the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, also known as the Akaka Bill since 2000.
His Chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee was welcomed by Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairperson Collette Machado who said, “As the only U. S. Senator that is a member of an indigenous community, we are very pleased that Senator Akaka has been named the Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.”
Fellow U. S. Senator, and Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) voiced support for Akaka’s move as well saying his colleague’s intent is to, “focus on providing for indigenous people in rural communities all across America, and to help provide the same kind of recognition for Native Hawaiians, already enjoyed by more than 500 indigenous groups.”
Akaka, who previously served as the Chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will be replaced by Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), but will remain on the committee as a senior member.
“This move does not mean diminished support for veterans,” said Inouye. “Senator Akaka is a World War II veteran and he’s always supported Veterans and he will continue to do so.”
“It has been my incredible honor to chair the Veterans’ Affairs Committee during the past four years…I am proud of all the we have accomplished,” said Aakaka, who noted the passage of the largest single-year increase in funding for veterans’ care in the nation’s history, as well as the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Akaka said he is looking forward to his new role. “Native communities across the nation face unique challenges, including disparities in economic development, health care, public safety, education and energy development,” said Senator Akaka.
Last month, President Obama announced the nation’s support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The President’s announcement stresses our country’s commitment to strengthening government-to-government relationships with its indigenous people,” said Akaka. “It is important that we hear from native communities across the nation as we work to strengthen these mutually beneficial relationships. I believe the United States can serve as a model for the rest of the world in the treatment of its first people. I am eager to holo imua – to move forward,” said Akaka.
In addition to his Chairmanship of the Indian Affairs Committee, Akaka will join the Senate Democratic leadership as Vice Chair of the Steering and Outreach Committee during the current 112th Congress. Senator Akaka will also continue to serve on the Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committees.
“I am also pleased to join the Senate Democratic leadership team as Vice Chair of the Steering and Outreach committee. This role will keep me in a position to advocate for Hawaii’s needs as our party works on legislative efforts.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said: “I am glad to have Senator Akaka join our Democratic leadership team, and I know he will be a strong advocate for America’s indigenous people on the Indian Affairs Committee, just as Chairman Inouye was when he was chairman of the committee.” said Senator Reid. “He is an important member of our caucus, and I am excited about his new roles.”
Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) said: “I am humbled by this Chairmanship not only because of the great veterans I’ll serve, but also because of the man whose shoes I’ll be working to fill. Senator Akaka has been, and always will be, a champion for his fellow veterans. I know that in the coming years he will continue to be a leader on this Committee, someone who I will rely on heavily, and someone who’ll never stop fighting for the veterans of his home state and our nation.”
Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said: “Senator Akaka is a long-time friend of Alaska, and I look forward to working with him on the steering committee as his years of experience in Congress will be invaluable. I have the privilege of working with Senator Akaka on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees, and I have seen many of his victories for veterans and service members. There is so much that needs to be done on behalf of Alaska Natives and Native Americans and I am grateful that Senator Akaka chose to chair the Indian Affairs Committee. I know that he will be just as committed to the issues facing Native Americans. As a Senator from Alaska, a state where our indigenous people were federally recognized decades ago and have thrived and contributed to our economy ever since, I am a strong supporter of Senator Akaka’s efforts to bring parity to Native Hawaiians.”
National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said: “The National Congress of American Indians is eager to work with Chairman Akaka and all of the members of the Committee on Indian Affairs. This is a new era for advancing the federal-tribal relationship under the U.S. Constitution, and I was very glad that Chairman Akaka attended our State of the Indian Nations address today. Chairman Akaka inherits a profound and historic role, and we are looking forward to his leadership.”
Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka said: “AFN is delighted that Senator Daniel Akaka has accepted the Chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. We know Senator Akaka as a true friend to Native Americans and know he will work with us to address the challenges and opportunities we face in this still recovering economy. He will be open to new ideas and solutions. “