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Animated doc on ironworkers hits festival

(COURTESY ALLAN DOWNEY)

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A new short animated documentary titled Rotinonhsión:ni Ironworkers, about the history of Indigenous ironworkers in New York City, has been selected to be screened at this year’s American Indian Film Festival (AIFF) in San Francisco.

“I was just elated to see the news and have the opportunity to share Kahnawake’s history,” said Onkwehón:we historian and co-director and writer, Allan Downey.

“It has taken four years for this project to come to fruition. So many people from the community have put so much hard work into this,” he said.

Kahnawa’kehró:non Carlee Kawinehta Loft is co-director and writer along with Downey.

The project was also made possible through a partnership with the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center (KOR) and Six Nations Polytechnic.

The five-minute documentary was also nominated for Best Digital Animation and featured the artwork of prominent artist Martin Akwiranoron Loft (Carlee Loft’s father), Victoria E. Ransom and Marcy Maracle.

“What we wanted to get across in the video was a focus on the families, a focus on the women and on how they brought the culture from the community into Little Caughnawaga,” said Loft.

Loft explained that a big part of her research revolved around conversations with her dad Martin, and how it related to the history of ironworkers in New York.

She also said that at times she would work at KOR with the idea that whatever research was found would be left at the cultural centre so community members could access it.

The short tells the tales of Kahnawa’kehró:non who moved from Kahnawake to Brooklyn and created a home there.

“There were a few things that spurred my interest in the project. Number one was my research on lacrosse. Lacrosse and ironworking are very closely connected in Haudenosaunee and Indigenous communities more generally,” said Downey.

Downey’s father, a recently retired millwright, was also a source of inspiration, said the historian.

“Unravelling the stories of Indigenous ironworkers has been exciting for me. To be able to talk to people, to do the research in the archives and to see the stories that maybe a lot of people don’t know about has been so much fun,” he said.

The narrative of the short begins in the 1880s. However, Indigenous ironworkers only began travelling to New York City in the late 1910s, said Downey.

The short also documents some of the buildings that Kahnawake ironworkers worked on as of 1920.

“I am thrilled it will be screened at the festival and wish it does well,” said Martin. “I was proud to be asked to produce some art for the film and look forward to seeing it completed.”

Downey said that the documentary has been shared with some community members, but he is not yet allowed to show it publicly because of AIFF’s rules. However, he plans on having a community screening in the near future.

“Personally, the best stories I found were from talking to my dad and the stories of my great-grandmother getting kidney beans driven to her all the way from Kahnawake to Brooklyn, to make cornbread to sell to folks in Little Caughnawaga,” said Loft.

Loft believes it is important to breathe new life into these kinds of stories because historically, they haven’t been told from an Indigenous perspective.

“I am just really happy that we might be able to contribute to the ongoing documentation of this incredible history,” said Downey.

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