September 8, 2011 7:35 PM   Subscribe

For over one hundred years many Mohawk peoples, including Randy Horne, have been iron workers, building bridges and skyscrapers around North America. Because of their status as First Nations peoples aboriginal ironworkers from Kahnawake and Akwesasne have the right to work in both Canada and the U.S.A.. Many workers continue to do so, commuting to New York to rebuild the site their relatives worked on in the early 1970s.
posted by Cuke (14 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post. I'd love to see more pictures from the 20s and 30s.
posted by rh at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada
They can balance and they can climb
Like their fathers before them
They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline

-- Joni Mitchell "Song for Sharon"
posted by timsteil at 9:24 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wow. Fabulous post. Thanks so much. Flagged as fantastic.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:48 PM on September 8, 2011

The film that is mentioned in the Sun article looks really cool. A Mi'kmaq friend of mine worked on it and was the first one to tell me about this tradition. Working construction in Victoria and Vancouver I'd been exposed to a couple of different scaffolding companies with all-aboriginal crews (perhaps they were aboriginally-owned as well, I don't know). After learning of the ironworking tradition, I wondered whether there exists some sort of pan-(Canadian) native identification with fearlessness regarding heights as a manifestation of the warrior ethic. Anyway, fascinating stuff. Thanks.
posted by Roachbeard at 9:53 PM on September 8, 2011

I was up at the Six Nations reserve in central Ontario--and the musuem there had a large section on the Mohawk ironworkers. The reserve had a huge edwardian building, that held the residental school, filled with abuse, and the musuem was modern--the section on the iron workers was in the middle of this modern building. The juxtaposition of the two haunted me for weeks after.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:38 PM on September 8, 2011

Definitely flagged as fantastic.

There's a really nice piece by Joseph Mitchell called "The Mohawks in High Steel"

Looking for the Mitchell piece I ran across this nice blog post: "Hanks" about the area in Brooklyn (named 'Caughnawaga' after the reservation a lot of them came from originally) where a lot of the Mohawk lived.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:58 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

After learning of the ironworking tradition, I wondered whether there exists some sort of pan-(Canadian) native identification with fearlessness regarding heights as a manifestation of the warrior ethic.

This a piece on this in (I think) William Poundstone's Big Secrets. He in turn refers to a sociological study of the "high workers" that concludes there is no inherent fearlessness but there is a lot of machismo. No one wants to admit that they are afraid, so no one does. And so the tradition continues.
posted by outlier at 1:15 AM on September 9, 2011

A good book -- On High Steel : The Education Of An Ironworker by Mike Cherry. Cherry was a high school teacher (if memory serves; it's been a number of years since I read this book) he was a high school teacher and lost his gig somehow.

So then he took this crappy factory job and that crappy factory job and one day heard through a buddy of an outfit that was looking for an ironworker apprentice. Cherry applied and he got the job. And he worked at that job, he became a journeyman, and then, being a man who can write, he told us all about it in this book.

I recommend it, highly, if you've any interest in the topic of high steel.

hmm, it appears he's also written another book, Steel Beams and Iron Men -- I'm gonna have to take a peek at this one

posted by dancestoblue at 3:29 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

At last! A refreshing angle on the WTC. Thanks so much--this is wonderful.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:17 AM on September 9, 2011

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this seems like exactly the kind of post that metafilter exists to showcase. It should be linked in the goddamn FAQ as an example. Well done!
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:36 AM on September 9, 2011

I used to work in DUMBO, Brooklyn (NY) back in the early oughts, and my favorite bar in the area - Between the Bridges, sadly no longer there - just happened to be the favorite for the iron workers local as well. My god, could those men drink. I was in my twenties and could hold my own with just about anybody, but these motherfuckers were INSANE. A few of them were Indian - the word they used - which is how I found about these men that commute for like eight hours to hang our steel. I'd tell a funny story here, but I can't remember any of them. Actually, most of my time in DUMBO is a bit of a haze. May have had something to do with the two dollar pints.
posted by Jim Slade at 1:07 PM on September 9, 2011

It's a really hard and under appreciated job, but you can tell how much pride they have. Listening to the narrator in that video clip is amazing. There's a lot of dignity there, and I think that's something that people really underestimate in labor disputes. It's not always about the money.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:10 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the additions & comments. Though I've been around here for a while this was my first FPP & I really appreciate the feedback.

The film that Roachbeard linked above has a section that mentions steel crosses that were erected at the border of Kahnawake in remembrance of the Mohawk iron workers who died when the Pont du Quebec collapsed. One of the iron workers I heard interviewed this week talked about how he & colleagues from Kahnawake went down to NY to help in the aftermath of the collapse of the WTC. One of the things they did was to make iron crosses from the fallen beams to give to the families and friends of victims who were around the site. I am agnostic but I have to say that hearing him speak about those crosses was what gave me the push to post.
posted by Cuke at 5:18 PM on September 9, 2011

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