Retired Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka, the only U.S. Senator of Native Hawaiian ancestry, will be honored tonight by the National Education Association as one of three recipients of the Human and Civil Rights Award.

Akaka, who represented Hawaii for 36 years in the U.S. Congress, is being recognized as a champion of Native Hawaiian culture, who first built his career as a ground-breaking educator in Hawaii.

"Having grown up in an era when the Native Hawaiian language and culture were shunned and suppressed, Daniel Akaka advocated for bringing the language back into the classroom," the NEA said in a statement.

The former teacher and principal was known as a champion of Asian-Pacific Islanders during his time in Washington, sponsoring legislation to enhance Hawaiian education programs, and a resolution acknowledging the U.S. government's role in overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893.

Akaka announced in 2011, at the age of 86, that he would not seek re-election at the end of his term. At the time, Akaka was the third-older member of the Senate.

"It was a very difficult decision for me," he said in a statement at the time. "However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside."

Akaka will be honored by the NEA in Denver tonight, along with Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King.