HIGH STEEL: Mohawk Ironworkers Series on APTN

By Lee Waters

Mohawk Ironworkers is a new 13-part half hour documentary series that celebrates the ‘steely determination’ of the Mohawk ironworkers of Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Six Nations that are said to be “the best ironworkers on the planet.”

The series features engaging personal stories from the Mohawk Ironworkers who built the World Trade Center and were affected by the 9/11 cleanup, the men and women who enroll in today’s rigorous training programs to keep the tradition alive, and more. According to the APTN release: Using a mixture of dramatic HD “high steel” footage, on the job and home-life reality shooting and archival material, each half hour episode presents a fascinating visual and moving story of the ironworkers and their families – as they face the realities of one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.

Photo courtesy: DC Montreal WordPress

Photo courtesy: DC Montreal WordPress


It All Began With A Bridge

Ironworking requires a rare combination of strength, intelligence and courage. Tasked with laying the foundations and building the metal skeletons of buildings, workers handle the lifting, fixing and welding of hundreds of heavy steel beams – often while thousands of feet in the air.

The Mohawk tradition began in 1886 during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway bridge across the St. Lawrence from Kahnawake to Montreal. First hired as day labourers, the locals soon proved adept at the dangerous work and later found themselves in demand elsewhere.

Unintended Consequences

The Mohawk Ironworkers series details some of the devastating health effects the cleanup crews were exposed to during the 9/11 cleanup. One episode description is as follows: When the NYC Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, over 50 Mohawk ironworkers helped clear the wreckage of the iconic Towers their fathers built. But no one was prepared for the health risks of the Ground Zero cleanup. The cleanup cost Jaysen Mayo his health and career, and Brad Bonaparte, his life…

Photo Courtesy: Smithsonian Institute

Photo Courtesy: Smithsonian Institute

The chronic health impacts of ground zero have remained a controversial topic. An article from the Village Voice in 2006 reported that several dozen recovery personnel have developed cancer – as opposed to having contracted respiratory ailments, and that doctors have argued that some of these cancers developed as a result of the exposure to toxins at the Ground Zero site: “To date, 75 recovery workers at ground zero have been diagnosed with blood cell cancers that a half-dozen top doctors and epidemiologists have confirmed as having been likely caused by that exposure.”

Dr. Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital said, “Why isn’t the whole nation mobilizing to take care of the chronic health impact of this disaster?” Dr. Norton cited the 70 percent illness rate among first responders as “a wake up call.” Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, Dr. Nathaniel Hupert of Weill Cornell Medical College, quoted by Jill Gardiner of the October 4, 2006, issue of the New York Sun said that premature deaths and other ailments of dogs in the area are “our canary in the coalmine.”

Alleged deceptions about Ground Zero air quality also surfaced in August 2003, in a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA said the Bush administration pressured the EPA to remove cautionary information about the air quality at Ground Zero. According to Wikipedia, numerous key differences between the draft versions and final versions of EPA statements were found. A recommendation that ‘homes and businesses near ground zero be cleaned by professionals’ was replaced by a request that citizens follow orders from NYC officials. Another statement that showed concerns about “sensitive populations” was deleted altogether. Language used to describe excessive amounts of asbestos in the area was altered drastically to minimize the dangers it posed. Despite the health risks, many ‘fearless’ Mohawk Ironworkers, felt it their duty to participate in the cleaning and building of the One World Trade Center.

The series is also accompanied by an online videogame called Rivet Rampage. This single-player game puts you in the role of a Mohawk ironworker. You are tasked with building one of the most iconic buildings in history, the Empire State Building, as well as Montreal’s infamous Mercier Bridge. Follow the foreman’s orders and ‘avoid flying birds, hot rivets and whirlnados.’

Each building site contains multiple levels where you take on real-life ironworker tasks like climbing structures, erecting platforms and finding tools.  Also available are Mohawk Ironworkers collectible trading cards that feature over 80 ironworkers who participated in the series. Collectable Cards will soon be available for purchase on the Mohawk Ironworkers website and in select stores in Kahnawake, Akwesasne and Six Nations. Virtual cards are available on the series Facebookpage.

Mohawk Ironworkers is produced by Paul M. Rickard, George Hargrave, and Margaret Horn. The series features a team of Indigenous directors: Jeff Dorn, Margaret Horn, Courtney Montour, Paul M. Rickard, and Michelle Smith. The series premiered Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 7 p.m. ET on APTN.

For more information visit the Mohawk Ironworkers Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MohawkIronworkersTV or visit the Mohawk Ironworkers website at www.mohawkironworkers.com.