Kaniehtakeron ‘Geggs’ Martin working at 55th Street. He's a fourth generation ironworker from Kahnawake.

Balancing 27 stories above midtown Manhattan on a recent afternoon, ironworker Kaniehtakeron ‘Geggs’ Martin straddled an I-beam on top of a rising skyscraper on 55th Street and grabbed a steel beam out of the air with a steady gloved hands.

Gently swaying the steel knocked into a support column with a deadening gong that provided the bass note to the work site’s dissonant clanging and sizzling welding.

Martin, 35, is a fourth generation Mohawk ironworker, and comes from Kahnawake, an Indian reserve outside of Montreal that has been supplying the city with ironworkers for the past century. Mohawks have worked on nearly ever skyscraper and bridge in New York City for over a century.

“It’s my job to climb the steel and erect the iron,” said Martin, who works as a connecter on the raising gang. “I put the building up, basically.”

Today, there are about 200 Mohawk ironworkers working in the New York area, out of 2,000 structural ironworkers, according to the union. Most still travel home to Canada on weekends.

“A lot of people watch us and ask me if I’m crazy, but it’s fun,” Martin said. ”You got to love what you do. They always often ask me if I’m afraid of heights… a lot of people are. I’m one of them who isn’t.”


A myth has long persisted that Mohawk ironworkers possess some innate skills that allow them to work at high altitudes, fearlessly.

In 1949, New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell described Mohawks as “the most footloose Indians,” and, quotes an official of the Dominion Bridge Company, the first company to hire Mohawks to do ironwork in the 1880s as saying “that putting riveting tools in their hands was like putting ham with eggs.”

At its peak in the late 1950s, there were 800 Mohawk ironworkers living in North Gowanus in a neighborhood nicknamed Little Kahnawake. They made up about 15 percent of ironworkers then. Today, they make up about 10 percent.

“Virtually every skyscraper … has been built by Mohawk and other Iroquois ironworkers including the new Time Warner building…Rockefeller Center, Empire State building, Chrysler, all these skyscrapers, virtually all the bridges,” said Robert Venables, a historian and former Director of Cornell University’s American Indian studies program.

Responses to "Sky Walking: Raising Steel, A Mohawk Ironworker Keeps Tradition Alive (VIDEO)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    In the old days the superintendents running them big jobs.Hell,they knew what time it was.Reading the plans at daybreak over that first cup of coffee-Black!Philadelphia in winter time I-95 A real bear.Scuhkill river bridge,adding three decks.You tied your tool to your belt.A long drop,100 some feet.The surface tension on water is the same as hitting concrete.You ain't walkin' away from it. The lost river gorge,West Virginia,a thousand feet deep.The iron workers union weren't biting ,so they hired Mohawks,taught there kids to walk steel beams by the time they were five.They put an arch a-top of that bitch and didn't lose a man.I would like to thank my good friend Bill for composing this-I'm a 32 year Ironworker(retired)appreciate all the people that still get after it.

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