To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey

To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey

Wed, 11/03/2010 - 7:00pm

Pictured: A man stands in front of the Welcome to Caughnawaga sign.

Credit: PBS.org

Stories of the Mohawk Community in Brooklyn, New York.

To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey tells the personal story of Mohawk filmmaker Reaghan Tarbell of Kahnawake, Quebec, as she explores her roots and traces the connections of her family to the Mohawk community in Brooklyn, New York. The program airs November 3 at 7 p.m. on WXXI World (cable 524/DT21.2).

For more than 50 years, the Kahnawake Mohawks of Quebec, Canada, occupied a 10-square block area in Brooklyn’s North Gowanus section, which became known as Little Caughnawaga. The men, skilled ironworkers, went to New York in search of work; they brought their wives, children and, often, extended family with them. The story of the Mohawk ironworkers has been told through documentaries and newspaper and magazine articles. Yet the stories of Kahnawake Mohawk women who lived in Brooklyn are little known.

As members of a matriarchal society, Kahnawake women created and maintained this Mohawk enclave in the middle of a bustling, diverse city. As mothers, keepers of the home and the children, they were often the breadwinners during hard times when work for the men was slow. Today, Tarbell works in New York City and lives in Brooklyn, just a few blocks away from the legendary Mohawk community that she heard stories about while growing up in Kahnawake.

“Never have I thought more about them than during my own time living in Brooklyn,” Tarbell said. “Although many years have passed, I had a feeling, based on my own experiences, that deep down not much has changed for Mohawk women. I wanted to learn about their experiences. I wanted to hear about the issues they faced and I wanted to hear it from the women in whose path I was now walking.” The contributions and stories of the Mohawk women who were instrumental in the creation of Little Caughnawaga are told through interviews, archival photos, home movies and visits to the old neighborhood.

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