Mohawk Ironworkers

cc136 at cc136 at
Thu Apr 11 17:55:59 MDT 2002

	Today I received a notice regarding an upcoming exhibit at the
National Museum of the American Indian entitled "Booming Out: Mohawk
Ironworkers Build New York."  On the cover is a rather heroic picture of
Joe Regis working on Chase Manhattan Bank HQ in the late 1960's.  The
Mohawk Ironworkers are one the most well-known examples of the
proletarianization of native peoples in North America.  Many have ignored
the exploitation of native peoples' labor, simply assuming that their
oppression was limited only to land appropriation and cultural genocide
(residential schools, laws against spiritual practices, etc.).  Much of
this reasoning has been based on the relatively small contemporary native
populations, and exhibits what J. Blaut called the 'tunnel of time.'
That is, they do not recognize the extremely difficult conditions extant
for hundreds of years during proto-capitalist development (although check
out Jack Weatherford's analysis of the fur trade and native people's
relationship of debt slavery to the Hudson's Bay Co. or Dan Usner's work
on the 'hybrid economies' of the Mississippi Valley).  Nevertheless,
indigenous peoples have been relied on as a group of super-exploitable
workers in regional labor markets during the modern period as well (just
like other non-N. Europeans).
	While I'm glad that the Smithsonian is doing an exhibit on the
working lives of native peoples (thus helping to humanize them in the
eyes of non-Indians), I wonder how this exhibit will be handled.  Will it
simply lionize the workers as individuals, praising them for their
bravery and agility (by many accounts quite extraordinary)?  Some of the
stuff I've seen written by non-natives on the Mohawk Ironworkers falls
into essentialism that in my mind dehumanizes them by viewing them as
having 'natural instinctual abilities'.  The exhibits at the Smithsonian
seem to be designed by native curators, so hopefully we won't see that
sort of language.  Hopefully they will contextualize this community and
these workers.
	The exhibit opens April 25.  I'll write a review and post to the

	Chris Carrick	
	PhD Candidate
	Department of City and Regional Planning	
	Cornell University

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