For more than a century, Haudenosaunee Ironworkers from Canada have been famed for their skill, daring and toughness. They are renowned throughout North America, with many of the iconic buildings of New York City’s skyline standing as testimony to their nerves of steel.
But perhaps just as significant, they and Haudenosaunee women from Kahnawake in Quebec also built a thriving Indigenous community called Little Caughnawaga in Brooklyn.
“By the 1920s, Haudenosaunee families from Kahnawake and Akwesasne, just outside of Cornwall, Ontario, were relocating to downtown Brooklyn, where they established the community of Little Caughnawaga, the anglicized name of Kahnawake,” says McMaster University history professor Allan Downey in his 2022 Woodrow Lloyd Lecture at the University of Regina.
“Within 30 years it’s estimated that approximately 700 Kanienkehaka Nation members alone — this isn’t including other Haudenosaunee or Indigenous community members — relocated to Little Caughnawaga and helped form this new community which would thrive until the early 1970s.
“Significantly, from the 1920s onward, Haudenosaunee women played an integral role in the community’s formation, acting as critical intermediaries as they operated boarding houses, worked in factories, assisted transient Indigenous workers from across North America, and extended the web of Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) nationhood into these urban spaces.”
Downey notes that although there was a significant presence of Indigenous ironworkers in New York City and other major urban centres throughout North America, American popular culture in the 19th and 20th centuries is “largely void of any Indigenous presence.”
“This notion of an Indigenous absence led generations of scholars and policymakers to relegate Indigenous existence and history to … disregard the central significance that these spaces and associated livelihoods had in cultivating and re-imagining Indigenous nationhood, self-determination and at times sovereignty throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.”
He argues this is an example of resurgent history — stories of Indigenous tradition, culture resistance, community and governance that can help spur self-determination for Indigenous nations.
WATCH | Allan Downey’s 2022 Woodrow Lloyd Lecture, Resurgent Histories: Ironworking, Self-Determination, and the Future of Indigenous History
*This episode was produced by Chris Wodskou.
This content was originally published here.