Former U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, the first Native Hawaiian elected to Congress, has died at age 93.
A spokesman for Akaka said the former senator died in Honolulu Friday after having been hospitalized for several months.
Akaka, a Democrat, served more than three decades in Congress before he retired in 2012. He served a total of 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 21 years in the Senate.
Akaka was known for his advocacy of his home state’s Native population. One of the main pieces of legislation he championed was for the rights of ethnic Hawaiians, including the ability to form their own sovereignties like Native Alaskans and American Indians.
“Daniel Akaka was a clarion voice for the rights and needs of Native peoples, ensuring that our commitment to Tribal nations and Native Hawaiians was never forgotten,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Apart from being the first Native Hawaiian elected to Congress, Akaka was also the only Chinese-American member of the Senate during his tenure.
Akaka’s father was of Chinese and Hawaiian descent and his mother was Hawaiian.
The former senator had a reputation for being an affable legislator who made many friends and made few waves during his time in Washington.
Born in 1924, Akaka was the youngest of eight children. After graduating from high school, he served in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. He then went to the University of Hawaii and rose through the ranks of the Hawaii Department of Education, first as a high school teacher and principal and later as a program specialist.
Akaka is survived by his wife, Mary Mildred “Millie” Chong, five children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.