Testimony of Christopher Winters

Chair Burrows, Commissioners, honored staff, guests and families of this great Nation of Nations, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Chris Winters, a Muscogee (Creek) Nation enrolled Citizen and adopted Puyallup Tribal member, veteran and labor leader for the I.U.P.A.T. DC#5. Since 2004, many have welcomed me and many other Native American labor leaders into your homes, councils, lodges, and hearts, for this I thank you with all my relations.  I come to you today so very proud to be welcomed each time, to pay the proper respect which is earned and deserved; as the Tribal Affairs Liaison for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council #5, here in the Pacific Northwest.  I wish you well and bring a message from myself and of my District Council.

I have been asked to speak on the Tribal and Military Service-Disabled Veteran outreach subject matter we have put in place successfully for over the past eighteen (18) years. The following testimony has been a great deal of our mission outreach to these underserved populations and have been a critical piece to the diversity we at IUPAT D.C.5 are honored to support every day.

Let me first tell you a little about my journey that has brought me from the State of Oklahoma, a “Rez” kid exposed to generations of trauma informed programming; choosing to live beyond the barriers historically built in mine and in the paths of many others.

My childhood and early adulthood years were spent in the Midwest being raised in a rural setting and working through high school with my stepfather as a painter’s helper.  Later I found myself in the oilfields after my stepfather suffered a medical condition from his occupational exposure to the trade.  Prior to graduation from Barnsdall High School, in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, I had signed up for early enlistment into the U.S. Army; the military would be my ticket to a new horizon.  Little did I know how it would completely change my life.

I started my career in the service as an Armor Crewman/Infantry – Scout.  After traveling through Europe, I decided to re-enlist for another “hitch.”  I spent another tour as an Infantryman, NBC (Nuclear Biological & Chemical Warfare) Specialist, Marksman and an “OPFOR” (Opposing Forces) Team Leader.  I met and married the love of my life after being stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington - now Joint Base Lewis – McChord.  After a short honeymoon, my life took off.  We moved to Kansas (The First Infantry Division, Fort Riley), and I was selected for deployment and sent to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and then Iraq.

Having taken many leadership classes in the military, I was constantly gravitating towards the role as a leader, caring for soldiers and their families became very close to my heart.  My time spent there will forever be an important crossroad that would become my new direction in life. After leaving the military service I took a job as a Security Specialist while my applications to different Federal Agencies were cycling through the endless red tape.

I decided to return to school and registered in an Apprenticeship program (Architectural/Commercial/Industrial Painter).  Joining the Union and working through the school afforded my spouse and I a better standard of living.  After completion of school and becoming a Journeyman Painter I began to get active in the community as well as leadership activities within my company.  Within a short period of time as a lead man, I was promoted to Field Supervisor.  The Union came knocking on my door asking me to consider joining the ranks of local leaders and field representatives.

I accepted the offer and have attended numerous classes in leadership at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland (George Meany University).  After two years as a Field Representative, I was elected as the Business Representative for the South Sound Area and had served in that role until 2019, transitioning careers and potentially leaving the Union after 27 years.  With that expectation, my older sister and I founded an SDVOB / MBE Consulting firm in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  We provided Tribal/Labor/Military strategic planning and engagement opportunities.  We had our family business only for a few years. 

Some of the additional opportunities that I have participated in range from serving at the request of former Washington Governor Gary Locke and Gov. Christine Gregoire as a Labor Representative on the Board of Correctional Industries.  I served three and a half years on the board up until September 2006.  In 2014, I served as a board member on the Marysville/Tulalip Chamber of Commerce (ex-officio) and was afterwards appointed to the City of Tacoma Human Rights Commission as one of thirteen Commissioners starting in September 2012 and ending my service in 2016.

In 2019, I received both the Washington State Labor Council Apprenticeship Award for creating pathways for Tribal and military candidates and the CTER National Award for bringing Tribal nations and labor together for workforce development.

Some affiliations and positions: formerly the Judge Advocate of VFW Post #91 and DAV Chapter #18 in Tacoma where I am a lifetime member in both organizations. I am an enrolled member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and an adopted member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and a member of the Inter–Tribal Warrior Society. My military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Accommodation Medal, Army Achievement Medal (six awards), Good Conduct Medal (second award), Southwest Asia Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, National Defense Medal, Overseas Medal (Second award), and Expert Qualification Badges for Pistol, Rifle, Master Driver – wheel/track, and Grenade. I am currently (May 2022) under review for a Purple Heart Award, post-classified documents are being made available in 2015 from the Department of Army NARA (Archives) allowing for consideration/distribution.

Now that you’ve gotten a small glimpse of the road I have traveled to arrive here, please allow me to address some topics which I have encountered along the way.

“Pathways to prosperity”

Access to Apprenticeship: State and Federally Recognized Training is a key factor in the successful engagement of persons from underserved communities.  Our Federally Recognized Tribal Nations often are overlooked when industry and civic agencies are thinking of recruitment strategies.  Many Tribes, in particular those located in the Southwest and southeastern part of California, do not have access to basic needs to live with dignity: They have no running water; no electricity and the roads are not paved.  Many live in huts and use oil lamps and coal fire.  Most Tribes don’t have access to technology to create pathways to opportunities.  These are real barriers that have to be addressed so that they have the ability to live with dignity and can provide the basic needs to prepare the next generation.

Fortunately, the men and women who live in these communities are themselves more able to adapt to the needs of employers and industries given their survival in the historically unsupported living conditions they’ve been exposed to. 

By entering a skilled trades apprenticeship, Tribal citizens can follow those pathways to prosperity, so that they have a career that pays a living wage and are able to support themselves and their families for a lifetime. The IUPAT has been fostering these programs for many years. We provide information to prospective employers to tell them about the benefits of recruiting workers from underserved communities. We also provide prospective workers information about our programs. Recently, our new General President, Jimmy Williams, announced the creation of multiple constituency groups within our International Union to specifically engage those communities and forge relationships with the emerging workforce, uniting them to our Union family, like our Tribal Affairs mantra says: ”One Union, One Family…Many Nations.”

“Post Apprenticeship Training – Journeyman / Foreman / Superintendent”

Once a person has completed the task of finishing the apprenticeship, that does not make them fully qualified to be the best and most well-rounded journey person. It takes years of working with other trades persons developing those acquired skillsets honing their abilities into that of the Master Crafts Persons who are desperately needed across all of the skilled trades.  Unless more set aside goals are established and supported, the gap in the engagement and placement void will only grow larger. Indentured apprentices must be employed before a new candidate can be registered/dispatched, therein lay the roadblock to advancement without increasing the demand.

“Barriers or Hinderances to eventual success”

During my nearly thirty years in the skilled trades, I have seen and been exposed to many different types of barriers or hinderances that could, if left unaddressed, derail a person’s pathway to success.  Some examples include: 1) counter-productive policies that do not allow drivers re-licensing; 2) restrictive application requirements to deter persons from applying because they do not quite understand the steps needed to apply; 3) restrictive recruitment and access to jobs where underserved communities are excluded from consideration; 4) and of course all of this is compounded by inadequate or unreliable transportation to support candidates for career launch programs.  What I mean is that in some instances, individuals do not have cars and if they do, they do not have the resources to pay for adequate car insurance, licensing fees, or even gas.  There’s also a lack of access to public transportation in these communities, especially in the rural areas and in Indian country.  The pandemic has made this worse due to reduction in bus routes.  These barriers keep possible candidates from not only entering the programs, but many drop out eventually because they are unsupported through this process.   

What have we done to address some of the roadblocks? Working with our local legislators, community groups and not-for-profit agencies, we assist the candidates from the beginning and surround their initial entry with the necessary support to strengthen their abilities to navigate the rougher times when they find themselves beyond the veil of support. At the IUPAT we have established mentorships, and through our IUPAT Helping Hands, Job Site Empowerment Sisters (JESS), to name a few, we take care of the unmet needs and help to remove as many roadblocks as we can, thus clearing the way for a Candidate/Apprentice to attain their journeyman certification.

For years, our IUPAT DC5 leadership has supported efforts to build upon the relationships established with our future candidates where they live, worship, and gather for cultural observances.

“Military / Persons with seen and unseen disabilities”

How are we engaging and preparing these candidates for successful living wage careers? What are some of the realities we should continually be working to address as we emerge from over twenty years of active combat operations abroad? From the Office of the President to the USACE (Army Corps of Engineers), there is a movement to set goals on all federally funded projects, capital projects and even so far as some states have established percentage goal usage for Uniformed Service Members, Veterans and their families through Apprenticeship set-asides. 

To engage, educate and activate these unrealized assets to our eventual combined successes, we must increase our demand thus forcing the flow of supply to fill the necessary voids in program considerations.  Many bases around the globe have centers to assist the service members as they transition.  Getting skilled trades persons into those centers to provided real transformational support is and continues to be a positive factor in their shift from the Armed Forces Uniform to that of the skilled trades of their choosing.

In closing, thank you for the opportunity to provide this viewpoint.  I, as well as my co-workers, stand ready to assist in every opportunity to showcase our “Value Added Services.” 

Respectfully submitted by,


Chris Winters
IUPAT DC5 Military & Tribal Liaison
6770 East Marginal Way South, Bldg. E, Ste. #321
Seattle, WA 98108

206-441-5554 Office
253-307-5594 Cellular