Growing up a couple blocks from Alaska’s state capitol building in Juneau had an impact on young Alexei Painter. With both of his parents working for the state, Painter always envisioned that public service and public policy would play a role in his life. Sure enough. After Painter graduated from George Washington University in the nation’s capital, he found himself back in Juneau working at the capitol building just blocks from his childhood home.
Painter spent the first year there working for Rep. Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau), the House Minority Leader, and then for Rep. Reggie Joule (D-Kotzebue). The experience working for Rep. Joule opened Painter’s eyes to another passion – delving into the policies that impact the lives of Alaska Native people and others in rural Alaska. At the time, Rep. Joule led the Bush Caucus, which consists of legislators from rural regions of the state who, regardless of party, work together for the common interests of their constituents.
“I have been fortunate enough to work on many issues of importance to Alaska Native people, such as caribou hunting in Alaska’s Northwest Arctic, the state’s coastal management program and redistricting,” Painter said. “I learned a lot about the needs and challenges we face as the state heads into its final decades of oil wealth.”
In part, that experience drove Painter to go back to school to pursue his master’s degree in public policy. With a GPA of 3.94, he is poised to graduate in May of this year from the University of California, Berkeley, one of the top public policy programs in the country. As part of his master’s program, Painter is working on tribal policy and examining the differences he has witnessed in Alaska and California.
“When I think of how Native policies were implemented, I really think about how lucky we are as Alaska Native people,” Painter said. “For the most part, we have the opportunity to live close to our original lands and enjoy our traditional values, if we so choose. Compared to California, we have a much better ability to control our own destiny.”
Painter is already in the process of re-entering the job market. His ultimate hope is to return to Alaska and play a role in shaping the policies that can make life better for Alaska Native people. “It’s not merely a nice goal, but a moral imperative,” he said.
Painter’s demonstrated commitment to serving the Alaska Native community and excelling in his field of study, earned him the honor of being the first recipient of the William D. Phillips special excellence scholarship award through The CIRI Foundation. The scholarship was established by CIRI in memory of Mr. Phillips for students in such fields of study as government and public policy.
Painter, a CIRI descendant of CIRI original enrollee Elanore Mae Beatty, said he is grateful for the support of CIRI, particularly The CIRI Foundation, which supported his educational pursuits at both George Washington and Berkeley.
“My career goals remain the same – making Alaska and Alaska Native people stronger. My education equipped me with new tools to bring about