2015 Native American $1 Coin: Mohawk Ironworkers in New York City
The 2015 Native American $1 Coin honors the Kahnawake Mohawk and Mohawk Akwesasne communities for their “high iron” construction work and the building of skyscrapers in New York City.
In the coin’s image, a Mohawk ironworker reaches for an I-beam that is swinging into position high above the city. Two rivets decorate the border, one on each side, and “Mohawk Ironworkers” is inscribed at the bottom. The required inscriptions “United States of America” and “$1” are also present.
Native American tribes take great pride in the bravery of their people, whether displayed in high-iron construction work or fire jumping and brake cutting to handle the West’s raging wildfires. As warriors were honored in days past, these workers are honored for putting their lives on the line to protect the people’s safety and welfare.
The tradition of Mohawk high iron working dates to 1886. Mohawk day laborers on a local bridge project insisted on working on the bridge itself. The supervisors were amazed at the Mohawk’s ability to handle heights.
But the work was dangerous, and the danger became clear in 1907. The Quebec Bridge, designed to be the largest cantilevered bridge in the world, collapsed, killing 33 Mohawk workers. Four family names were wiped out. After the disaster, the Kahnawake Clan Mothers ruled that large numbers of Mohawk men could not work on the same project at the same time.
As the 20th century progressed and the number of huge iron structures increased, the demand for these ironworkers increased as well. New York City in particular was reaching for the skies using crews from the Kahnawake and the Mohawk Akwesasne communities from upstate New York and Canada. At one point, one in four Akwesasne men worked in high-rise construction.
When the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001, a Mohawk construction crew saw it up close from a nearby building. When debris needed to be removed, dozens of Mohawk ironworkers volunteered for the dangerous job. It was thanks to a Mohawk worker from Akwesasne that the “9-11” flag was displayed at the 2004 Winter Olympics. He recovered the flag from Six World Trade Center’s lobby on the day after the attack. Just as the ancient Native American warriors devoted themselves to preserving all the people of the tribe, the modern risk-takers see their occupations as a contribution to the public good. These contributions have inspired the design of this coin.