Lighting the way for other Native Americans, using a welder’s torch

Interesting career, bright future: ‘There’s a lot of work out there,’ says longtime pipeliner

Through inspiration, motivation and perspiration, Audrey has been able “to not become a statistic.”

Far from it. In the eyes of her family and her people, she’s a resounding success.

Raised in the American southwest on the Navajo Nation, Audrey now lives in northern Minnesota and has relatives on the Grand Portage, Leech Lake and White Earth reservations. She’s been a pipeliner for about 20 years—starting as a welder’s helper, then moving her way up from journeyman pipefitter to welder to welding inspector.

Even through the smoked glass of her welding helmet, she can see it was the right move.

“It’s been very fruitful. The future looks better than I could imagine, and it has been really interesting,” says Audrey, who spoke up in support of Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 Replacement Project during a recent Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing in the community of Hinckley.

“I am trying to get more work for other Native Americans, get them signed up with unions to get trained and get in on pipelines and the welding industry, and letting them know there’s a lot of work out there for them,” says Audrey.

“We were encouraged to leave the reservation and pursue careers outside of the reservation, to come back one day and help our older people and the younger people,” she adds. “I’m really feeling like that’s my calling, to help encourage younger, underprivileged people . . . single parents like myself.”

Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right
Arrow An arrow pointing diagonally up and to the right

Enbridge’s proposed Line 3 Replacement Project in the U.S.—a $2.9-billion private investment, with more than $2 billion of that in Minnesota—would create thousands of family-sustaining construction jobs, a ripple effect through economic spinoffs in right-of-way communities, and more long-term property tax revenue.

It’s also based on safety and environmental protection, to which Audrey can attest firsthand.

“I think that a lot of people don’t realize that Enbridge sets the standard, a very high standard. I can go back to our Elders and explain to them how we keep our standards up, who we all report to, how we stay compliant,” she says. “I can show pictures. I can explain processes. And I can tell them about the materials we use, and how (standards are) exceeded.

“I’m really proud that we utilize the best materials and the best skills and training.”

Audrey’s approach to her work, and to the proposed Line 3 Replacement Project, is a combination of pragmatism and spiritualism.

“We’re going to keep using these pipelines and the products they provide, and maintenance is just something that comes with the product,” she says. “I am happy to say that I do a lot of praying when I walk—for our workers, for the project, for the animals, all the elements we pray for in our ceremonies.

“It’s really a blessed feeling when you’re able to button up the right of way, bury that pipeline, and know it’s a very sound product.”