Mohawk Skywalkers, how native people helped build New York City's most iconic buildings

Peter Jacobs is a Haudenosaunee, Mohawk Nation man who was an intricate part of building World Trade Center Tower 1

Video Transcript


PETER JACOBS: Hey, I'm Peter Jacobs. I'm a union iron worker at a local 361 I'm from Akwesasne, Mohawk Nation, the Haudenosaunee nation, one of the six nations.

Iron working, for most Mohawks and people back home, it's a generational thing. Our fathers, grandfathers, and their fathers, they started back in the early 1800s in Kahnawake. The story goes they were building a bridge down there for the Canadian railroad. They hired a bunch of the native men. They just saw how good the [INAUDIBLE] could walk iron.

From there, it just caught fire. And from generation to generation, it just keeps passing on and on. All my brothers were ironworkers, every single one of them-- my father, grandfathers, on my mom's side. I had a really young age-- me and my late brother, we used to skip school a lot.

My grandfather would take us, and we'd go walk on the bridge, underneath the bridge, walk all the way. He told us, walk across the water, then come back. And as you go, it's getting higher, and you do that. And they would always tell us, don't tell your grandmother.

So that's where we got our start. Like, me, I'm fearless. My brother, same thing-- I know numerous guys, they walk anything like me. And it don't bother us. It's part of the job. That's what we signed up for.

The tradition of ironworking, it's a good living. But it's hard on a family. The wives basically are mothers and the fathers because we're away all week. And we're working to support our families.

To me, they're the backbone, and they have always been. In my culture, the women, they're the bosses, you know? And they keep the family strong and together, them.

Out of all my buildings, I would say Tower 1 was probably the best experience for me. That, to me, from in here, [? let's ?] give back to them families. It was an honor for me to work on that thing. I know my people are proud of me, you know, especially back home, because it was only a couple of us who literally worked on that building from back home.

And there was other guys from Kahnawake on that building, you know? And like I said, a lot of them guys were handpicked. It was some of the best of the best in this country and probably in the world.