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Home / Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back - DVD/Le petit Caughnawaga - DVD

Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back - DVD/Le petit Caughnawaga - DVD ONF/NFB

Catalogue Number:  NFB548590
Producer:  National Film Board Of Canada
Language:  English, French
Country Of Origin:  Canada
Copyright Year:  2009
Running Time:  70:22

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Two Mohawk workers straddle a steel beam high above the great urban grid of Manhattan. A pair of elegant waiters serves them lunch.

The photo was taken in 1930 — a publicity stunt to tout the construction of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. “That’s my father and uncle,” says Myrtle Bush, proud of the role her Mohawk family played in creating New York’s iconic skyline. “They had the first dinner at the Waldorf!”

Myrtle joins a chorus of women’s voices in Little Caughnawaga: To Brooklyn and Back, Reaghan Tarbell’s documentary tribute to the vibrant Mohawk community that once thrived in New York — and the spirited women who sustained it.

As early as the turn of the century and continuing until the ’60s, Mohawks from Kahnawake, Quebec, regularly found construction work in the booming metropolis. Many settled there, forming a unique subculture of urban Indians in the heart of Brooklyn.

While the men were scraping the skies over Manhattan, the women, inheritors of a matriarchal tradition, kept their feet firmly on the ground, raising families, holding down jobs of their own and keeping the community connected and the culture alive.

Little Caughnawaga evokes the community’s heyday, when a tight-knit resourceful neighbourhood of can-do women ran bustling boarding houses and the guys downed an after-work beer at the Spar Bar or Wigwam. And on Sunday mornings it was off to Cuyler Church, where services were conducted in Mohawk.

Tarbell retraces the steps of her intrepid grandmother Ida Meloche, who arrived in New York during the Depression. She was a very young but determined woman in search of opportunity and adventure. The city would be her home on and off for over 30 years.

Warm memories blend with the bittersweet as women talk about losing men to the perilous high steel life, and Tarbell intercuts her tale with details of contemporary initiatives to commemorate the 1907 Quebec Bridge disaster, a tragedy that claimed 33 men from Kahnawake.

But the Mohawk have persevered in the face of centuries of adversity. “We’re still here!” says community elder Rita McComber as Kahnawakero:non gather to unveil the monument. It’s that kind of resilience that keeps Reaghan Tarbell grounded as she bids farewell to her family and hits the road herself. A young Mohawk women heading back to the Big Apple.

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