Akwesasne ironworker Mike Cook races to the top of a 30-foot girder during the column climb competition at the Ironworkers Festival on Saturday July 21, 2018 in Akwesasne, N.Y. (Alan S. Hale/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network)
AKWESASNE - Being an ironworker is not a career that gets a lot of glorification in the way that other professions such doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, engineers, business executives, and teachers do. Even Superman has a day job as a journalist, not an ironworker.
But Akwesasne has hosted one of only two events in the entire United States dedicated to giving ironworkers their due: the Akwesasne Ironworkers Festival, which was held in the parking lot of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort on Saturday. The only other event of its kind is held in Mackinaw City, Mich.
"The original event was held in Turningstone down in New York, but after that, it was moved to Akwesasne. This is the 16th annual festival," said Benjamin Herne, casino special event manager and organizer of the festival for eight years. "This is a way for us to honour and pay tribute to the Mohawk ironworkers' skill and aptitude in this business.
Ironworkers are the tradesmen who put together the metal superstructure of most modern large buildings by hoisting and connecting iron girders using rivets. It's a vital job on any major construction project, but it is done at very high altitudes depending on the building and can be very dangerous. It's also something that forms close-knit communities and employs multiple generations of some families.
The industry also has a long history in Akwesasne, because multiple generations of Mohawk men and now women have left the community to work as ironworkers in places like Buffalo and New York City over the decades to support their families. This includes the family of Mike Cook, who is a regular attendee and competitor at the festival.
"It's beautiful, I come every year," said Cook. "My grandfather, my father, and my brother are all ironworkers. It runs in the family."
For many decades, Mohawk ironworkers have been prized by the construction industry for their dedication and their reputation for fearlessness in the face of the staggering heights they worked at. Mohawks helped build the World Trade Centre, assisted in clearing it away after its destruction, and then worked on building the new one.
Akwesasne ironworkers were also key to the construction of the old high-level bridge in the late 1950s and early 1960s that spanned the north channel, along with its demolition — work that involved ironworkers cutting the trusses into manageable pieces that were mostly lowered to the ground by crane.
The twin towers featured prominently on the crest printed on the backs of the t-shirts handed out at the festival, which also included for the first time the image of a female ironworker to recognize the increasing number of Mohawk women entering the trade.
The festival itself was a very chill affair. People sat under a canopy and ate Indian tacos while listening to a Mohawk band play the blues and cover favourite songs from years past. Outside the canopy, there were some vendors selling trinkets and food. There were also the Ironworker challenges.
Organizers had set up several different competitions where ironworkers could see who was best at the skills of their trade. Only real ironworkers could take part in the challenges and had to prove it by being a member of one of the union locals.
There was a beam walk where contestants balanced across a girder. There was also a rivet tossing where one contestant used tongs to toss an iron rivet to their partner high up on a scaffold waiting to catch it in a metal cone.
The real showstopper was the column climb, where contestants had to climb up a girder planted vertically in the ground to ring the bell at the top – 30 feet up.
See original article on standard-freeholder.com