Machinists Come Together to Support Native Veterans

IAM District W24 Business Representative Wayne Thompson, right, and his wife, Kris, helped provide firewood for Native American ceremonies that help military personnel cope with PTSD and substance abuse.

IAM members lent a helping hand to veterans at the American Lake Veterans Administration, just outside of Joint Base Lewis McChord in Tacoma, WA. The base supports Native-American ceremonies for military personnel suffering from PTSD and other issues like substance abuse.

Warren Gohl, a chaplain with the Inter-Tribal Warriors Society and the General Secretary-Treasurer for the Council for First Inhabitants Rights and Equality (Council FIRE), a group that began within the labor movement to enact positive change for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, is one of the leads for the base’s sweat lodge, a dome-shaped hut used for centuries by Native Americans for ceremonial steam baths and prayer.

“The veterans, and others, who come to these ceremonies are able to find a bit of peace and support,” said Gohl. “They are in a safe environment, where they can open up and talk to others who have walked in their shoes. As they leave the lodge, they can hold on to the peace and comfort provided as they walk their daily lives – the old ways are still working.”

Kevin Cummings, an IAM Grand Lodge Representative who is also the President and Founder of Council FIRE, learned about the great expense of firewood that the leaders of the sweats were paying-up to $80,000 a year-out of their own pockets. They also had to cut, split and store the wood – no small amount of work.

Cummings reached out to IAM District W24 Business Representative Wayne Thompson – and help was on the way.

Thompson, among his many duties as a union official, is a 14-year Army veteran and represents workers at Weyerhauser, a timber company based in Washington State. He sprang into action, and the company has agreed to provide some of the wood necessary to keep the fires burning bright.

Thompson and his wife, Kris, also a combat veteran, began gathering wood and started processing it into useable firewood.

“We feel good about being able to help. Kris and I both served and we take the care of our warriors very seriously,” said Thompson. “We look forward to helping in the future.”

Recently, the Thompsons, along with Cummings and John Witten, another sweat lodge leader, loaded three pickup loads of firewood that the Thompsons had cut into rounds. The next day they were joined by Gohl and four others to finish the job. They cut rounds and split them into useable pieces – delivering another four pickup loads to the sacred site on VA property.

“These types of efforts are exactly the things that Council FIRE ought to be working on – bringing the labor movement on board with serving our first inhabitants,” said Cummings. “We are uniquely situated to help in situations like these, and with raising awareness to native issues that are too easily ignored. We actively look for opportunities to help, and having people like Kris and Wayne Thompson – and all the others who jumped in to help – makes me very humbled and excited about our future. The Thompson’s continue to be heroes, and deserve many thanks for their good hearts and hard work.”

“The IAM is humbled to have such great members and families with hearts full of grace to sacrifice their time and give back to such a worthy cause,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary Allen.

Council for First Inhabitants Rights and Equality is a 501(c)(3) organization, and anyone can help with the mission – click here to join.