YORK CITY -- Mohawk ironworkers returned to the public eye in this
devastated city after the terror of September 11. As eye-level witnesses
to the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and prominent figures
in the rescue and clean-up efforts, the high-steel workers from the
northern reservations refurbished a name already deeply bound with
the New York skyline.
A grateful city is now honoring the Mohawks
with a series of public ceremonials and the new photography exhibit
"Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York" at the
Smithsonians National Museum of the American Indians
George Gustav Heye Center through October 15.
The 67 photographs focus on the ironworkers
from two Mohawk communities, Akwesasne, which straddles Ontario,
Quebec and New York State in two reservations, and Kahnawake, near
Montreal. Photojournalists and Mohawk workers themselves capture
the breath-taking scenes of construction on the Empire State Building,
the George Washington Bridge, Rockefeller Center, and the World
Ironworker Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvais
(Kahanwake Mohawk), who worked at the World Trade Center site, observed
to the Smithsonian: "A lot of people think Mohawks arent
afraid of heights; thats not true. We have as much fear as
the next guy. The difference is we deal with it better. We also
have the experience of the old-timers to follow and the responsibility
to lead the younger guys. Theres pride in walking iron."
High steel has been a Mohawk tradition
for more than a century. The exhibit title "Booming out"
is a Mohawk term describing the exodus of workers from the northern
reserves to worksites throughout the country. The migrations continue,
with long commutes on weekends to reservation homes.
W. Richard West (Southern Cheyenne), the
NMAI director, said the museum "is proud and privileged to
present these images.
"This is an inspiring and important
story that has particular immediacy and relevance because the George
Gustav Heye Center, which is a cultural landmark in lower Manhattan,
is located just blocks from Ground Zero."
Public programs will accompany the exhibit
in coming months. On May 18 to 19, a Childrens Festival will
feature steelworker and traditional dancer Jerry McDonald, who will
discuss ironworking in a session called "Tools of the Trade."
On June 7 and 8, Kanatakta (Mohawk), the curator of the exhibit,
will lead an in-depth gallery program on the history of the ironworkers
in his community of Kahnawake.
Earlier this spring, McDonald starred
in "Eagle Dance," a performance piece honoring the ironworkers
presented by Lotus Music & Dance and introduced by Mohawk elder
Tom Porter, spiritual leader of the Kanatsiohareke Community. The
piece was originally scheduled for Sept. 22, 2001, but was postponed
in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.