George Montero, LU 30
Member since the late 1980s
How long have you been in the union?
I retired nine years ago after working since the late 1980s.
How has being a part of a union made a difference in your life?
I knew I had a responsibility in my career path in the union. Back in 2002, one of my good friends, Frank Reynolds asked me if I was interested in talking to the Tulalip pre-apprenticeship program.
Frank pointed out that I was as a:
Delegate, building trades Council member, apprenticeship training committee member, trustee, representative for my local, the first Alaska native and first American native to hold these positions.
He told me that “Our young people need to hear from you, they need to hear success stories like that.”
I have responsibilities, I say this very humbly–they include talking to young people about the success that I have had in my career. I thanked Frank for reminding me of my responsibilities. I thank Creator, the Almighty One and the Ancient Ones for guiding me on my path and helping me to be successful for my family, Tlingit tribe, state, and my union.
How did you get into the industry?
Early in life, I knew that I wanted to be a union person. My father was a very successful person in the fishing industry in Alaska–a foreman and superintendent in cold storage. At one point he had a choice to join the union or stay in management. If he had joined the union he could have retired with a pension. It meant something to me because he worked his fingers to the bone. All the Monoongs (respected elders) that he had come to America from the Philippines, the men that had joined the union before him, they retired with pensions while he still worked. Later in life, he joined the union and he said this was good.
Midway in my life, I joined the union. I moved to Juneau while the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline was being built. I went back home with my family. I started out as a laborer doing piecework, concrete, and framing. In the building trades when you start as a carpenter you start learning a craft in the original four-year degree. I enjoy working outdoors with my hands, and I have enjoyed the travel. I got a journeyman’s certificate–once you receive that you have the ability to travel anywhere you want to in the world and anywhere you go it will be similar. What did our ancestors do? We traveled as a people. I enjoyed that freedom and I could only accomplish these things by going to school, picking a trade, and embracing it.
Has union membership impacted your life in ways you did not expect?
Respecting the sovereignty of the tribes opened a lot of doors with the National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Gaming Commission, Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. In 2004, I attended the opening of the National Museum of American Indians, it was the largest gathering of natives in the history of the US with over 500,000 people. In that same trip, I met with the National Congress of Indians to present a letter from our Council that showed respect for the sovereignty of the tribes. It was the beginning of the relationship that we have today. It was instrumental in starting the TERO pre-apprenticeship and bringing people into the trades.
I am proud and humbled to know that students are graduating, running work, and facilities are being built. To be where we are today, we also started the tribal caucus. It is a very integral part in keeping our relationships open with the tribes. Now, I play my flute at tribal conferences which opens the door for more conversations. Last year, I had the honor of playing the flute at the National TERO conference which was followed by a tour of the UBC International Training Center.
The flute started me on a path that I knew that I enjoyed, and it has brought me places that I never expected. I allow our Creator and Ancient Ones to guide my spirit and open doors for people into our union. Often when I go in to speak to the Tulalip pre-apprenticeship program I play a melody on the flute to get their attention. I have only missed one of the pre-apprenticeship graduations since it opened. I am very honored, humbled, and proud.
I have strength in my beliefs and I am willing to pass that on. It has been an incredible journey. As elders we have responsibilities and we never do retire. That’s what the Ancient Ones did for us, they shared their stories and that is what our duty is today to better our tribe and all of mankind. In the words of Dr. Walter Soboleff, “It’s not the projects in Indian country, it’s the young people that we can train.”
Can you speak more about your experience making and playing the flute?
The flute is another tool in my toolbox. I am the type of person that has to really understand. When I decided that I wanted to learn how to make the flute and teach myself how to play, I wanted to know what makes the sounds resonate for such a long distance. It is very soothing to the ear. I learned about the wood grain, what to look for. For example, red cedar has a soft romantic sound, while yellow cedar has a crisp sound. The cedar tree is called the tree of life. The flute was once a tree that had life and gave life. I have learned my native music on the flute. Our Creator guides my hand, controls my breath, and I create life through melody into the world. I am giving it a breath of fresh air.
Playing at the National Museum of the American Indian
In 2018, I played my flute at the National Museum of the American Indian sundial. I was the first walk-on artist to play at the museum and I was able to share this moment with my grandson and his classmates. My grandson taped it all and when I got a call from the museum the next day they were able to place the video in their archives for future exhibits.
Playing at the top of Mount Roberts Tramway
August 5, 2018, I played as part of a historical celebration of our ancestors migrating to the Alaska Juneau goldmine.
Playing at Mendenhall Glacier
This dream goes back 55 years ago and it happened on March 5, 2019. It was the most beautiful and spiritual experience and I was able to share it with my family. To play inside the glacier, under hundreds of feet of ice formed over thousands of years. The sound resonated so beautifully.
Playing with the Juneau Symphony
January 19, 2019, I represented as a native flautist in the “Flutes From Around the World” concert with the Juneau Symphony that ended with an impromptu duet between myself and Armenian flautist Tigran Arakelyan.
Do you have advice for those starting out in their career?
Every day that we don’t learn is a day wasted. Whatever you do, that is called progress.
Equation: Heart + Eyeball + Stick Man Running = Goals
- Heart = passion
- Eye = vision
- Stick Man = action
- Cover the heart – those are the people that won’t get there
- Cover the eye – without vision you won’t get there, or it will take much longer
- Cover the action – you have nothing. You are a dreamer, if you don’t do anything it is just a dream.
There are three types of people:
- People that make things happen
- People that watch things happen
- People that wonder what the hell happened