I wanted to make Metal Road to shed light on two related, yet often hidden issues: manual labor in the US and Native American Histories. Laborers are often the most economically oppressed people doing infrastructure jobs, but the workers are strong and resilient. My hope is their labors will not go unnoticed any longer.
In making Metal Road, I gained a better understanding of work ethic and loyalty that lies dormant inside some of us, particularly in Navajos who live in areas with very high unemployment rates. When given the opportunity, they prove themselves to be skillful additions to any workforce. I have an admiration for the individuals with the commitment and raw will that it takes to be a laborer. I can’t do it; compared to the men and women in the film, my focus and will power are fleeting. It was brutal filming them prepare to work in the freezing temperatures at 3AM. So in making a film about railroader life, I wanted to reconcile our Native histories with contemporary Navajo heroes who grind out a living everyday. People talk about having the courage to try new things, new careers, etc. But what about the courage to put in your time into one job? Yes, taking those first steps to work is important and it lifts the soul up in self-worth, but it’s the ten thousandth step that counts.
And so maybe one day the minimum for laboring 30 years outside with dangerous machines and loud noises will be decreased, because now you must meet the same qualifications as an office worker in the same company striving for retirement benefits. As a Navajo filmmaker, I want to impress upon the viewer that the next Indian you see at a gas station in oil stained clothes might be returning from a 17-hour shift that keeps the world’s largest transportation system operating.