Mohawk Ironworkers and the World Trade Center

Once when I was more of a bolshi Indian Activist (I was about 11), I mentioned to a white schoolmate that I was sick and tired of us all being sent to rural reserves and wondered why we couldn’t have a city of our own. She retorted that we could have a city if we built it. Later when I told my Mum she said “Oh good, we can have New York.”

The fact is, Mohawk people are renowned ironworkers, and were involved in the construction of The Sears Tower, The Chysler Building, The George Washington Bridge, The Empire State Building, and most notoriously, the World Trade Center, among a multitude of other New York buildings. Their aptitute for being ironworkers was evidenced during the building of a bridge on Kahnawake in 1886, when construction crews noticed children and adults alike trotting along foundation beams. Currently a quarter of the male population in Kahnawake are ironworkers who commute to New York.

When the World Trade Centers collapsed, Mohawks working on other buildings in Manhattan went to Ground Zero and were part of the clean up crew, often doing the most dangerous jobs. Many of them were descendants of the ironworkers who had built the towers. And a lot of them were also active participants in OKA during 1990. Cleaning up involved seeing a lot of disturbing things like human remains, which haunt some of the workers even now. The destruction of the Towers affected Quebecois Mohawks just as much as Americans. Some ironworkers had completed their entire apprenticeship working on the Towers. To this day, Mohawks are heavily involved in ceremonies and memorials for the World Trade Center. As in Aboriginal tradition, many are also pushing for a spiritual cleansing of this site. We Aboriginals believe that souls of the departed require ceremonies and guidance in crossing over to the other side, to avoid being trapped on this earthly plane.

This september 11, when people start their memorials and mournings, take a moment to remember the courage of the Mohawks in both building and cleaning up the World Trade Center. More people need to remember that Aboriginal peoples have shaped North America throughout history, even creating these skyscrapers which people regard as a modern testament to civilization.

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