Casino Projects Offer Opportunities for Band Members

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Minneapolis – Buildings Construction

One of the benefits of the remodeling projects at Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Hinckley is that they are bringing a number of quality jobs to the area, and the opportunity for Band members not just to earn a paycheck but to explore careers in construction.

PCL, the general contractor for the projects, has hired many members from Mille Lacs and other bands and tribes. PCL superintendent Andy Forsberg has high praise for the workers and for the TERO staff who work with contractors to enforce laws requiring them to hire Indians on casino jobs.

In return, workers at the sites give high marks to PCL. The company has been understanding of workers’ family obligations and has created a fun and respectful atmosphere for workers.

Ron Audie has been working as a laborer on the Hinckley job since August, and he’s hoping to stay with the company for the duration of the project — and possibly longer if he can relocate to other job sites. “I like the work, and it’s a really great group of guys,” said Ron. “The bosses are cool, and we have a really good foreman.” So far he’s done everything from building forms and cutting concrete to removing floors and demolition — lots of demolition.

It’s not all fun-and-games, though. “The biggest challenge is that it’s physically demanding,” said Ron, who is 53. “When I go home at night, yeah, I’m a little tired.”

Gary Kuntz is known as a “jack of all trades” around the Hinckley site, with a lot of construction experience. He worked for Ebert on the powwow grounds and has also worked for Shingobe and Olympic Drywall. “I’m hoping to keep working until they tell me I’m physically unable to do it,” said Gary. “I absolutely love these jobs, but we need some younger people.”

One younger co-worker is Rueben St. John, who says construction is “good hard work, and honest money.” He laments that too many young men don’t seem to want to work. “You see these young kids who want this handed to them,” he said. “Yes, there are girls who like you, mostly for your money, so don’t get carried away.” He likes the satisfaction he gets from seeing a job well done. “What we’re doing here is gonna be great. Things that needed to be done are getting done.”

George LaFave has also been bouncing around the site from job to job, getting experience in everything from drywall to carpentry to electrical to kitchens. “The pay is great, and I’m working close to home,” said George. “Construction is something good to get into, and here you can learn about the different trades. I would like to get on with main PCL crew and keep working permanently.”

Tim Boyd is at the other end of that story. He started working construction when the Mille Lacs ALU was being built. “I thought ‘I kinda like this stuff,’ so that spring I went and joined the union.” He’s been a union plumber ever since, and is working for subcontractor Egan on the Hinckley project. “I like that it’s not monotonous, not doing the same thing day after day,” said Tim. “You might be setting fixtures one day, then we’ll be digging, putting in underground pipes the next.”

Other Band members working on the site are Wallace St. John, who works as a laborer, Terry Smith, an electrician for Hunt Electric, and Dione Davis, an administrative assistant at the PCL trailer.

And then there’s Bonnie Dorr, who does a variety of jobs at the Hinckley site (including giving tours to journalists). She’s worked on the Mille Lacs hotel remodel, the Eddy’s project, and at Mystic Lake. “PCL is so good to me,” she said. “I want to retire, but they just keep calling me back. They’re such a good employer, and they hire more Natives than they need to. We have close to 30 Native Americans at this site.”

Article by Brett Larson originally published in the Millacs Band of Ojibwe’s December 2016 OjibweInaajimowin publicatio​n​.