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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 6, 2002 - Issue 58


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Mohawk Ironworkers to be Honored at WTC Ceremony

by Jim Kent Native Times

High Steel WorkerNew York. N.Y. – They were the “bones” of Manhattan Island, put in place with the help of Mohawk ironworkers on what was once Mohawk land. They were the World Trade Center towers and their absence is like an open wound on the tip of that island; a wound that must be healed before everyone affected by their tragic loss can move on.

As part of National Victims’ Awareness Week, an annual candlelight vigil to be held at the West End Collegiate Church on April 21 will include a memorial ceremony for all those who died or were injured in the September 11 attacks. The American Indian community has been asked to participate in the ceremony as a result of the close relationship its members have had with the construction of the World Trade Center as well as in recovery efforts at Ground Zero.

“We wanted to be as inclusive as possible,” commented Mindy Bockstein spokesperson for the New York State Attorney General’s office – which is sponsoring the day’s events. “We also especially recognize the contributions that were made by the Iroquois Mohawk steelworkers both in building the Trade Center and in the recovery efforts that have taken place since nine-eleven.”

Mohawk tribal members have been involved in the construction of bridges and hi-rise buildings in New York State – and across the country for more than a century. Alan Snow, owner of Mohawk Bridge and Iron Company of Baltimore, Maryland, worked on his first construction job in 1966 as an apprentice building the “Expo ’67 World’s Fair” in Montreal, Canada. He now teaches other Mohawks how to work with iron and steel.

“It’s a trade that has been passed on for generations from grandfathers to their grandchildren,” he explained. “They taught us the sharing, the idea of giving someone else the opportunity. When you’re given a gift, you pass it back on freely to another.”

Mohawks were first employed by the Dominion Bridge Company after its workers noticed tribal members - including children – casually walking across the construction beams of a train bridge being built across the St. Lawrence River near their reservation at Kahnawake, just outside Montreal. The year was 1886. Dominion saw the Mohawks as “naturals” for bridge-building and trained a dozen tribal members to work for the company. As the years passed and buildings grew taller, working on hi-rise structures was a natural next step.

“We were always builders,” Snow remarked. “Our people lived in long houses, you’ll recall, maybe even on the very place where the World Trade Center stood. After all, this was once all Mohawk land.”

Debris Removal from Gound ZeroAs the Keepers of the Eastern Door of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mohawks once controlled all the land in the Hudson River Valley, on the island of Manhattan and across most of Long Island. Snow added that about 30 Mohawk ironworkers that he once knew as children worked to erect the World Trade Center.

“Some of them served their entire apprenticeships working that job,” he recalled. “Many moved their families to Brooklyn, but there were some who use to travel all the way home – over 500 miles - every weekend. They’re all retired now. But many of their sons were working on projects in New York and New Jersey on the day the towers fell.”

Cherokee Kwan Bennett is coordinating the New York City American Indian community’s participation in the candlelight vigil. She commented that she know many Mohawk ironworkers who’ve taken part in the recovery efforts at “Ground Zero” and is sometimes overwhelmed by the impact the tragedy has had on them and the rest of the city’s American Indian population.

“I know that the people of the Iroquois nations who are taking care of this land that was once part of where their people lived are really touched to the core by what has happened,” Bennett observed. “There’s been a lot of talk, particularly by the elders, that we actually need to have a cleansing...a healing at the site. There’s a lot of spiritual work that needs to be done.”

Those American Indians who plan to attend the April 21 vigil are being asked to wear their traditional regalia and bring fans and rattles as well as smudge pots or turtle shells. White pine needles will be brought to the ceremony from Ohswegan, on the Six Nations reservation in Canada, to be lighted at the same time as the candles as a symbol of unity.

“There's so much grief going on at this period in time,” Snow remarked. “And we as a people have felt such a large amount of grief for what happened to our particular people, our nations, in the past. Some of this healing will be for us, for that, too. It was a great tragedy, what happened there in New York, but there is also another great tragedy - the holocaust that many people still do not acknowledge today. And it has happened over a period of 500 years. We must all begin to heal from it and from all those crimes that we all continue to be victims of today.”

For more information on the Annual Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope contact Kwan Bennett at 212.262.5138 or Mindy Bockstein at 212.416.8839

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