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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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14th Annual Ironworkers Festival
by Andy Gardner - Indian Time
Paul Jacobs, Local 440, Akwesasne, competes in the column climb.

Several hundred people showed up on July 16 to celebrate the Ironworkers Festival, an annual tradition which completed a 14th year.

Several dozen union ironworkers from around the U.S. and Canada showed up at the event at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort to compete for the Ultimate Ironworker title, which this year went to Al Stanley of Ironworkers Local 12, Albany. Mike Swamp, retired business manager for Akwesasne-based Ironworkers Local 440, won Ultimate Retiree.

Participants competed in seven events, six of which were for score and one for a cash prize.

"The competitions went well," Swamp said. "Numbers were a little down from previous years. Hopefully we'll get a little more next year."

He said many ironworkers from the community are on the job building wind farms, repairing the Tappan Zee Bridge near Albany and working construction projects in New York City.

"That's where our manpower is," Swamp said.

"I had a good time. I had a blast. Akwesasne did very well this year," said Bill Sears, a retired Local 440 member who was on the original committee that brought the festival here.

It started at the Turning Stone Casino in 2001, but came up here the following year and stayed.

"This is where the home is. We brought it back here," Swamp said.

The festival games had several ongoing contests throughout the day, culminating in the capstone event, the column climb.

Competitors started out rotating through several events.

In the beam walk, they had to walk across a narrow steel beam, affix a plate with four bolts, then walk back across the beam. First place went to Mike Papineau of Local 440. Second was Kevin Bingley of Local 721, Toronto. Third was Rock Louisseize from Local 765, Ottawa.

Kevin Bingley of Local 721, Toronto participates in the beam walk.
Dennis Milton from Local 580 competes in the rivet catch.
Bill Ferraro, Local 580, New York City participates in the knot-tying event. The last part of the contest is to rig a sledgehammer with a knot that allows it to be lifted safely.

In the rivet catch, which was for a cash prize in lieu of points, half of a two-man team would pick up rivets with a pair of tongs and toss them to their teammate, who would have to catch as many as he could in a metal funnel. Billy Ferraro and Dennis Milton won the top prize. They are from New York City's Local 580. Second was Bingley and Louisseize. Third place went to Local 440's Tim Rourke and Vaughn Arquette.

The spud wrench toss saw the ironworkers throw the tools, which have a tapered end sharp enough to stick into plywood, at a bull's eye, sort of like a throwing knife. Stanley won first place. Second went to Rourke. Third went to Gary David.

The bolt toss event called for participants to throw as many bolts as they could into a bolt bag about 15 feet off the ground. Its opening was only six or eight inches across. Stanley was the top finisher. Swamp claimed second place. Rourke won third.

For the knot tie, the players had to tie three knots that would be used on the job, the final had to support a sledgehammer when lifted by the rope. The event was timed. Milton won first. Stanley finished second. Swamp was third.

Rod tying had the competitors tying as many support rods with wire as they could in 30 seconds. Rourke claimed first prize. Stanley was in second. Swamp finished third.

For the main event, the column climb, ironworkers while fastened to a safety harness would see who could shimmy up a 35-foot vertical I-beam and ring a bell at the top in the least amount of time.

Lakota Jacobs received first prize. Drew Jacobs from Local 440 won second. Papineau finished in third.

There was also a kids' watermelon-eating contest. The top eater was Thomas Rourke, Tim Rourke's son.

Too busy to look up, kids at the Ironworkers Festival doing their best to win the Watermelon Eating Contest. Photo by Marsha White.

A chicken wing contest had six restaurants submit their wings, which were labeled with letters. Spectators tried them and voted for their favorite. Brass Horse Grill won. Other participating eateries were Magic Mike's, Atomic Place, Bear's Den and Twin Leaf.

Tanya Papineau won the women's packing event.

Tanya Papineau won the women's packing event, which was packing a suitcase and toiletry bag in the shortest time.

Sears said the ironworker games are the "easiest, safest" events they came up with that represent parts of their actual work.

To the ironworkers who participated, their trade is more than just a job, it's a local tradition that over the decades has kept many Akwesasne workers a means to provide a decent life for their loved ones and helped change the landscape into what it is today, both at home and around the United States.

"Ironworkers helped build Akwesasne," Swamp said, adding that many people from the community who aren't in the trade have immediate family who are.

"My grandfather was a union laborer in the 1920s, my uncles were all ironworkers. I became an ironworker and my son is an ironworker."

Sears said Local 440, which was founded in the 1890s, now represents 302 members, including 16 who joined this year.

"It's an industry we take much pride in here in Akwesasne," Chief Eric Thompson said during the opening ceremony. "It's an industry that's woven itself into the fabric of our community."

"I extend appreciation and respect to all ironworkers and their families," Chief Beverly Cook said at the event's start. "It's a whole culture, being part of an ironworking family."

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