(Surface) Images & Aboriginal Graffiti from Kahnawake: A Mohawk Rez outside Montreal, Canada

A little over a week ago I rented a vehicle to take care of some chores, (the only time I feel pressed to rent; in this instance filling a third of the van’s tank of gas cost $61). My chores took me past Kahnawake (Kahk’nuh’wa’guh), the famous Mohawk First Nation (or reservation) at the western doorway to the island of Montreal. I had little time, little intention to do anything like a photo essay, and the light was fading fast. Here then are some randomly collected surface images.


Kahnawake has a history of militant self-defense. It was one of the prime loci of resistance in the Oka uprising of 1990. Above, in blue and white, is the flag of the Six Nations Confederacy. The Six Nations include the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga, and Tuscarora. This is the symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the League of Peace and Power, and the People of the Longhouse.

Iron Workers
Bound to stereotypical visions of indigenous history, some might not know that Mohawks have long been preferred workers for the construction of the steel towers of Canada and the U.S., especially in New York City. These people know all about “progress,” as insiders, outsiders, and downsiders. The image above features a Mohawk quasi-robo man, with the flag of the Six Nations on the left, and the militant flag of the Mohawk Warriors Society on the right.

I cannot say if this is the name of a Mohawk hip hop band, the name of a DJ, or just a plain reference to war. “FTW” is not known to me, although it might as well be “fuck the whiteman.”

No war on an empty stomach?
In a departure from images of pride and resistance, an advertisement for a bakery on the Mohawk reserve, bringing to life the everydayness of all the images combined. Like most signs in Kahnawake, they defy the Quebec state’s French language sign rules. Not only is French not prominent on signs, it often is not present at all. Stop signs read in two languages, English and Mohawk, the words being “Stop” and underneath “Testan.”


“Building Bridges”
Mohawk iron workers participated in building the bridges that soar above their land. Rail bridges, automobile bridges, and various on- and off-ramps cross the sky overhead. “Living under the bridge” and “across the rail tracks” usually carry negative connotations in North America. One never sees such structures above any of Montreal’s golf courses, not even the ones that were to be expanded into Mohawk burial grounds.

“We’ll just build on your land…and you can help”
From Wikipedia (Sept. 21, 2008):
The federal and Quebec governments have historically located large civil engineering projects benefiting the southern Quebec economy through Kahnawake lands. Criss-crossed by power lines from hydroelectric plants, rail and vehicle highways and bridges, the decision to pass the Saint Lawrence Seaway canal cut through its village permanently separated it from its natural river shore.

One of the first of these projects was the fledgling Canadian Pacific Railway’s Saint Lawrence Bridge. The masonry work was done by Reid & Fleming, and the steel superstructure was built by the Dominion Bridge Company. In 1886 and 1887, the new bridge was built across the broad river from Kahnawake to Montreal Island, and gave Kahnawake working men an opportunity to perform as fearless bridgemen and ironworkers. This was the result of a perception by construction companies that the Mohawk men had no fear of heights when given the chance to climb hundreds of feet above the water and ground. Here started the legendary stereotype that has now labelled all Native Americans as having no fear of heights.

“London” Bridges Falling Down?
This is the famous Mercier Bridge, barricaded by Mohawks during the 1990 Oka Uprising, and combined with other bridge blockades, the island of Montreal was effectively closed off from the mainland. This is where burning White anger against any instance of three Natives standing in a street really got an airing, and today even the smallest blockage is referred to by hysterically racist complainers in the mass media as examples of “Native terrorism,” often followed by full throated cries to “call in the army.” Since White counter-protesters used these bridges to pelt rocks at Mohawk women and children, I think a “real terrorist,” someone with access to materials in the construction industry, and technical know-how derived from working on the same bridges, would have strapped some belts of TNT to the support pillars above and brought this sucker crashing down.


White and Brown Natives?
Interesting idea (on the small sign at the right), but almost anything goes when it comes to cigarette advertising. Side note: the architecture of homes and shops in Kahnawake is very varied, but also strikingly different from the rest of Montreal. Not only does it look more like a small town in America, some residents also fly the American flag.

The All Natural Native…
…is a cigarette brand. The packet features the same symbol of the Six Nations Confederacy we saw at the very start. Outside of the shop hangs the flag of the Mohawk Warriors Society. The Native cigarette industry is a thriving and lucrative source of income, and probably one of the main reasons that non-Natives enter the Reserve to begin with (where they can purchase them tax free). Native tobacco for the White Man…some things never change.


This is just plain idleness. I took the first four photos from above, and distorted them using my photo editor. The result superficially appears to be an indigenous pattern, although it really is based on images produced by aboriginals (the murals), they bear accidental resemblance to patterns that might be popularly associated with indigenous textile designs. As I said, idleness, but pretty idleness I think.