Monday, 8 July 2013

Indian Skywalkers

This is a really interesting article about the history of the Mohawk people, and how they helped to build the dramatic skyline you see in New York today. Several Mohawk construction workers were on hand to finish the spire on top of the new World Trade Centre, a fitting tribute to their ancestors' role in not only building the original building, but also the first skyscrapers in that beautiful city.

This story caught my eye because I have already written about this subject before. A few years ago, I wrote an app about the skyscrapers of New York and stumbled across this incredible story. Here is what i wrote:

One group of Americans have become particularly associated with building skyscrapers in New York. The Mohawks, an American Indian nation from the Northeast, came to be known as “Indian skywalkers”, a testament to their bravery and skill when building infamous sites such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler, the Rockefeller Center, the George Washington Bridge and the Henry Hudson Bridge. A large population of the Mohawks, or Caughnawagas, live on the Caughnawaga reservation near Montreal. Generations of Mohawks have worked on skyscrapers since the early 1920’s, often emigrating from their reservation in Canada. Indeed, their efforts have become synonymous with the industrialisation and growth of modern America. In 1886, the Dominion Railroad Company wanted to build a bridge over the St Lawrence River near Montreal, and since it was through Mohawk land, the tribe demanded that the company hired some of their men as construction workers. A company spokesman noted that it “was impossible to keep them off”. Their reputation for ironwork (and excellent balance) grew, and twelve Mohawks were trained and employed by the company. They became known as the “fearless wonders”. Some young men were keen to learn ironwork for a chance to prove their bravery and skill, particularly on construction sites hundreds of meters from the ground. Many left to pursue careers as steelworkers in the cities, and by the 1920’s, most travelled to New York or Chicago. Mohawks often took the most dangerous jobs, including riveting, working in small groups with members of their kin. In the 1950’s, over seven hundred Mohawk families were located in Brooklyn. Ten years later however, improved transport routes between Canada and New York meant that Mohawk ironworkers could commute to the city, and hundreds returned home. After the terrorist attacks in 2001, many Mohawk steelworkers rushed to help survivors, and helped to disassemble what their ancestors had constructed. For many Mohawk tribesmen, steelwork and ironwork has become a tradition. 

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