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‘Fight Back’ gives back to Navajo Nation

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Retired IR Gary Evenson volunteers with Adopt-A-Native-Elder on the Navajo Reservation near Winslow, Arizona.

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Elderly Navajos, age 75 and over, wait in a circle to receive packages of food, yarn, food and firewood certificates, clothing and a hot lunch on the Navajo Reservation at Big Mountain.

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Elders and their families gather at Teesto area on the Navajo Reservation waiting for goods to be distributed. All the food, firewood and other goods are made possible through donations.

Local 4 forms as a direct result of recruiting Navajos

DURING A CHILLY, windy week in mid-October, retired IR Gary Evenson spent his time volunteering with Adopt-A-Native Elder to deliver food, clothing and supplies to elderly Navajos living on the reservation near Winslow, Arizona. Boilermakers began supporting 40 native elders through Adopt-A-Native Elder in 2017, but the union’s relationship with members of the Navajo Nation began long before that.

Both Evenson and International Secretary-Treasurer Bill Creeden are members of Local 627 (Phoenix) and in the 1990s, both were also Fight Back organizers. They’d been assigned to California with a mission to get hired onto job sites as “regular Joes” then recruit the non-union workers into the Boilermakers. The contractor they signed on with had hired a large number of non-union Navajo workers.

“There were a lot more non-union than we originally believed,” Evenson says. “Upwards of 3,000.”

They also discovered they already had connections to some of them.

“I recognized a lot of names,” Creeden says. They were brothers and uncles and cousins of some of the members from L-627.”

Evenson and Creeden signed hundreds of people into the union. And many they signed were Navajo.

“We had a lot of people,” said Creeden. “Several went into Local 627 for Common Arc testing.” He said most passed but at the time, L-627 wanted to “cherry pick” their members “because of the country club attitude.”

Evenson slotted some of the new recruits into Local 92 (Los Angeles); but for the Navajo members, that union hall was too far from Arizona.

So, several Navajo members petitioned to start their own local. And they had the members to do it. In 1999, the Navajos were granted a lodge. They asked for the lodge number to be four. It’s a sacred number because of the four sacred mountains (in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah—the boundaries of the Dinétah), four compass points and four colors (jet black, white shell, turquoise and abalone).

Local 4 (Page, Arizona) was born April 1999 with over 100 members. By June, that number had risen to 300. Current BM-ST Louis Dodson recalls the growth of Local 4 after they received their charter.

“In just three short years the ‘Navajo Nation Lodge’ had grown to over 1,300 members, approximately 98 percent of whom were Navajo,” he says. “I was very happy that each of our members were receiving a pension, annuity, vacation, along with health and welfare. The Boilermakers union is the best thing that’s happened near Navajo land.”

For Evenson and Creeden, helping elderly Navajo living on the reservation is a continuation of their work unionizing and forming a lodge two decades ago.

“In Local 627 and Local 4, we work with a lot of Navajos,” Creeden says. “Sponsoring these native elders is an opportunity to do something to preserve their culture and to care for those in need.”

And for Evenson, he says that “while we didn’t serve any centenarians this trip, the eldest was close at 98 years of age. And some of these remarkable women are still weaving beautiful rugs into their 90s.” He says volunteering with Adopt-A-Native-Elder has been a rewarding transition from “Fight Back” to “give back.”

Adopt-A-Native-Elder preserves cultural traditions

THROUGH BOILERMAKER DONATIONS, Navajo elders living in remote tribal areas in the Southwest receive food packages, grocery certificates and firewood as part of Adopt-A-Native-Elder. The assistance program helps elders who live in isolated areas of the reservation.

“As the Navajo elders age, it’s increasingly difficult for them to support themselves through traditional means,” Adopt-A-Native-Elder Director Linda Myers says. “Some raise sheep, weave rugs and create other items as a means of financial support, but it’s often not enough.”

For over 30 years, Adopt-A-Native-Elder has filled the gap by providing food, simple medicines, clothing, fabric and yarns to help more than 550 elders.

“We have an opportunity to touch the lives of these traditional people to show them that despite the many abuses they’ve suffered, there are people who care for them; people who respect them and their way of life,” Myers says.

She says that donations from the Boilermakers have made a positive impact on the comfort, security and survival of these men and women.

Find out more about the program and their ongoing needs at www.anelder.org

Tags  Local News
Locals  L-4
Reporter  V58N1
Published on the Web: April 9, 2019

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