Spring construction season is underway. Dave Bice, owner and founder of Bald Eagle Erectors, at his warehouse and repair shop. (Photo by Lee Egerstrom.)
By Lee Egerstrom
Whether from the plains or from the lakes and woods, Native Americans have used their skills to build some of the most iconic structures locally and all across America.
Take U.S. Bank Stadium, or the Vikings Stadium as many call it. Or Target Field, where the Minnesota Twins play. Or the new Minnesota State Senate Office Building, and Minneapolis Central Library, Guthrie on the River, newer bridges around the Twin Cities and University of Minnesota buildings, as examples.
Bald Eagle Erectors, the Circle Pines iron and steel erectors company owned by Dave Bice, was a subcontractor on all those projects. An enrolled member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, he is a third generation ironworker and is keeping alive a family – as well as a Native – tradition of builders.
This isn’t a local fluke. It is a story repeated across the nation. In years gone by, American elementary students were taught how the Mohawk from upstate New York and adjacent areas of Canada provided a disproportionate number of the ironworkers who built the New York City skyline. That tradition, too, continues to this day and is supported by construction stories from the Pacific Northwest and down through California.
Bice isn’t sure how Native ties to building and ironworks came about. Skyscrapers were as rare in Mohawk territory as they were, and are, on White Earth land. But his grandfather was an ironworker, as were uncles and family members who helped build the towering IDS Center in Minneapolis. That makes a family tradition.
At an interview in his office, Bice reflected on how other aspects of ironworking make a fit culturally for Native Americans and for others who are from marginalized communities that are often lumped together as “people of color.”
While his company and that of all small subcontractors struggled to survive during “the great recession” era of the 1980s, Bice also had to survive internal turmoil resulting from employee embezzlement. Ironworking and running a business are both “daily struggles,” he said. “Every day has a new challenge.”
Construction industry work is especially vulnerable to national and local economic conditions, he said. But since the current recovery started in 2009, Bice and Bald Eagle Erectors have attempted to make sure that at least a third of the employees are Native Americans, other “people of color,” and women.
Continue reading on thecirclenews.org