Read This Personal Interview with Former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka
In 2012, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Aunty Millie sit down to share their mana‘o on education, marriage, ‘ohana and of course, politics.
Editor’s Note: U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka died April 6, 2018, at the age of 93. Back in 2012, the editors at our now-closed sister publication MANA Magazine sat down with him for an extended interview. Here, we re-publish that interview in its entirety.
MANA Magazine co-publisher John Aeto: Where does the Akaka ‘ohana come from?
Sen. Akaka: The ‘āina on my mother’s side is Pearl City, O‘ahu. My tūtū Kahoa was the head of my mother’s family, and they were pure-Hawaiian. I used to stay with him even though he was elderly. We used to take the train down from A‘ala Park and ride it to Pearl City. The train tracks were right in the backyard of the land we owned. That is where my mother’s family came from, and her name was Annie Kahoa. My dad was Hawaiian-Chinese, and his father came from China in the late 1800s. He operated a horse and buggy in Honolulu during the kingdom; in our day we’d call that a taxi. He lived in Pauoa Valley. My father Stanley lived in Pauoa, too, and worked for Honolulu Iron Works until he retired as a molder. At that time, he was paid in coins in an envelope. We came from a family of eight, four boys and four girls. I was number 8, and I am the only one left. I was born at 3:30 in the morning. Pa delivered all of us except the first one at our Lusitania house.
Daniel Akaka and aunty Millie enjoy the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Hawai‘i State Archives
Aeto: Did you grow up with a lot of music in your life?
Sen. Akaka: Yes, and my children as well. I’m still a member of the Musicians Union. I played many instruments, and I even used to teach band.
Aeto: During what years were you at Kamehameha?
Sen. Akaka: I went to Kamehameha in the 10th grade. First, I went to Pauoa Elementary School, then to Kawananakoa, and last, to Kamehameha, class of 1942. In 7th grade, I was interested in student council, so I got involved and represented my class. In 8th grade, I campaigned for the presidency, not knowing that one day I was gonna be doing that [campaigning]. I got elected student body president, as such, I think Kamehameha took interest in me. I’m a veteran of World War II. In those years you were drafted, and, as you know, Kamehameha was a full-time military school.
Aeto: Tell me a little about you and Aunty Millie. You have had a legendary relationship through the years, with a legacy of children and grandchildren. How did you meet?
Sen. Akaka: Let me say from this end I was really blessed to meet her. I was the director and board member of the Hawai‘i Junior Civic Club. We had to interview new members, and she happened to be a new member who I interviewed. I give all the credit to her because she can tell you how busy I was all these years. She did a great job keeping our family bound together in the spirit of love, and our children grew up well.
Aunty Millie: We were young, and we had a goal to get a home for our children and give them an education. And, basically, we gave them a lot of love. That’s what it’s all about. We didn’t have much, we were struggling, but we had love and so our children had a lot of love.
Aeto: Do you [Aunty Millie] discuss a lot of the congressional politics?
Aunty Millie: No, because the days are long in Congress and by the time he gets home I’m cooking and taking care of things. We don’t really have time to talk about the politics. I figure he has good staffers so better he listen to them than me. He might not be in office that long if he listens to me [says with a giggle].
Aeto: Are you proud of President Obama?
Sen. Akaka: Yes, very proud, he is a keiki o ka ‘āina. One who maintains the spirit of Hawai‘i. You can see the aloha in him, in the way he operates. It’s natural for him, and I think it has made a difference. When you speak to international leaders, I sense a different type of feeling that they have for him as president of the United States. This is because of his manner and his spirit, and he’s smart.
Aeto: How hard is it to keep that spirit of aloha especially in a place like Washington, D.C.?
Sen. Akaka: For me, I feel that spirit is so important to our country and to the rest of the world. I’ve travelled the world, to leaders of the world, coming from Hawai‘i is different. Let me back up and say in all my years in Washington, I realized that Hawai‘i and the people of Hawai‘i have a mission, and that mission is the spirit. The spirit of aloha, spirit of the islands, spirit of the people, that is what this country and the world needs. My friendships are good on both sides of the aisle. When I first got to Washington, what I couldn’t take was all the fences. If you want to get through you have to write a letter. Why I gotta write a letter? Why can’t you just pick up the phone? I’ve been trying to knock the fences down. Now, I gotta tell you between veterans affairs, which I was chairman of, and armed services, which I’m a senior member, there was a huge fence. I’ve been trying to get them to work together. Today, once a week, the heads talk and so much gets done. They say “hey can we do this,” and bang, it’s done. We don’t have to write a letter. I’ve tried to knock down fences and get people working directly together.
Aeto: What are your thoughts on Act 195 and the requirements to be on the roll?
Sen. Akaka: My mana‘o is the koko, even if it is 1/8 or less. Those who have the koko and want to be a part of it, that’s the roll. You register as such.
Aeto: Do you think the roll commission will assist in the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act?
Sen. Akaka: I think the roll commission will give us a good idea of our foundation. I have to commend you on the graph that you [MANA] published of the number of Hawaiians and where they live today, it’s really amazing. For me, as long as they feel a part of Hawai‘i, the spirit is so important. If they have the koko and the spirit then they want to be involved. There may be some that don’t want to be known as Hawaiian, and that is okay too. We will know who they are, and we can use that as the base too. We need all their voices.
Aeto: There is some debate as to whether or not the Native Hawaiians will be on the same platform as other Native American tribes, particularly on the federal income tax. If and when the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act passes, do you think Hawaiians would get parallel benefits, such as the tax benefit?
Sen. Akaka: I would ask for that if we were recognized. That’s why I talk about legal aspects, we would benefit like other indigenous people. Really my goal was to organize the indigenous people of our country, which would include Hawaiians. Indigenous people around the world are suffering from the same things. If our country [United States] can organize a model that can be applied, then maybe other countries can follow. I wanted to start with Hawaiians, because we are indigenous people of the United States, too, and should get the same parity as American Indians and Alaska Natives.