Gov. Bill Walker named his new rural affairs adviser Tuesday at the Alaska Federation of Natives winter retreat in Kotzebue. Gerad Godfrey’s full title is “Senior Advisor on Rural Business and Intergovernmental Affairs” — a title that Godfrey says is meant to communicate that much of his work will focus on economic development in villages and bringing tribes to the table when the state consults local governments.
Godfrey is an enrolled member of the Native Village of Port Lions tribe and has worked as a director of corporate affairs for Kodiak-based Afognak Native Corporation. He also serves as chair of Alaska’s Violent Crimes Compensation Board and on the Native American Contractors Association board of directors. Godfrey says he excited to be part of a change in how the State of Alaska, tribes and corporations interact.
“I’d say one of the first things I was intrigued by is the opportunity to be involved in a reset between tribal interests and Alaska Native interests and the State of Alaska and the government. That obviously is something that animates me, and I think animates a lot of people, if there’s potential to create a more fruitful relationship and a relationship that reciprocally beneficial to both the state and the Alaska Native community and tribes,” Godfrey says.
Willie Hensley, a former state representative and senator who’s been active in the Alaska Federation of Natives since its inception, says he is pleased with the governor’s choice. Hensley says Godfrey needs to focus on maintaining services and jobs in rural Alaska and working with coastal villages impacted by climate change. Godfrey is coming into the role at an important but difficult time, Hensley says.
“I think it’s wonderful that he’s willing to take on the challenge, because it’s not going to be easy,” Hensley says. “Things have been hard in Alaska, it’s just the way of life up here, but we’ve had 35 good years in which people have enjoyed a much improved life, many conveniences, many services, programs, facilities that could hardly even be dreamed of in my youth. Now, of course, all of that’s under jeopardy because of the nature of our economy and our dependence on oil, so he’s going to have his hands full.”
Godfrey’s access to the governor will be limited for now as the legislature is in session and lawmakers are tackling a major budget deficit. Meanwhile, he says, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott is very accessible.
“The lieutenant governor, who is an extraordinary authority and resource on Alaska Native issues, will be highly, highly available in the absence of the availability of the governor. So, there will be more access without a doubt and nobody has the governor’s ear any more than the lieutenant governor does as an Alaska Native leader for decades himself,” Godfrey says. “One way or another there will be a good deal of access to the administration between the governor and the lieutenant governor.”
Godfrey will be based in Anchorage and is spending his first month on the job taking meetings and making contacts. He says he may convene a summit of Alaska Native stakeholders in the near future.