To Brooklyn and Back

Yvonne Harmon reminisces about growing up in Brooklyn. Yvonne Harmon reminisces about growing up in Brooklyn. Paul M. Rickard

To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey is an hour-long documentary about the personal story of Mohawk filmmaker Reaghan Tarbell from Kahnawake, Quebec as she explores her roots and traces the connections of her family to the Mohawk community in Brooklyn, New York.

For over 50 years, the Kahnawake Mohawks of Quebec, Canada occupied a 10 square block area in the North Gowanus section of Brooklyn, which became known as Little Caughnawaga. The men, skilled ironworkers, came to New York in search of work and brought their wives, children and often, extended family with them. The story of the Mohawk ironworkers is an important one and is one that has been told and continues to be told through documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles. Yet the stories of Kahnawake Mohawk women who lived in Brooklyn have gone untold.

A common misconception is that the women simply followed their ironworker husbands to the city. The truth is many left the reserve by themselves to find work in Brooklyn, just like the Mohawk men. Reaghan's late grandmother, Ida Meloche, was one of them. At the age of 16, Ida moved to Brooklyn with her elderly mother in search for work and a "golden opportunity."

Director Reaghan Tarbell on a New York City ferry with the city skyline.Director Reaghan Tarbell on a New York City ferry with the city skyline.

As a matriarchal people, Kahnawake women were responsible for creating and maintaining a Mohawk enclave in the middle of a bustling, diverse city. As mothers, keepers of the home and the children, they were often the bread winners themselves during the hard times when work was slow. Today, Reaghan works in New York City and lives in Brooklyn, just a few blocks away from the legendary Mohawk community that she heard stories about while growing up in Kahnawake. The women who built this community were her grandmothers, aunts and other relatives, which she feels proud of their accomplishments to tell their stories in this documentary.

"Never have I thought more about them than during my own time living in Brooklyn. Although many years have passed I had a feeling, based on my own experiences, that deep down not much has changed for Mohawk women. I wanted to learn about their experiences. I wanted to hear about the issues they faced and I wanted to hear it from the women in whose path I was now walking." — Reaghan Tarbell

The contributions and stories of the Mohawk women who were instrumental in the creation of Little Caughnawaga will be told through interviews, archival photos, home movies and their visit to the old neighborhood. The story also unfolds through the perspective of the director, a young Mohawk woman. Directed by Reaghan Tarbell from Kahnawake, this documentary was produced by Mushkeg Media Inc. in English with French and Mohawk language versions.

  • To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey was written and directed by Reaghan Tarbell and produced by Paul M. Rickard. George Hargrave served as Executive Producer for the program. For more unique Aboriginal Documentaries, you can check out Mushkeg Media Inc's Web site at
  • See more Canadian films from the National Film Board of Canada at Contact the people of Kahnawake at, the Web site for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
  • Learn more about Mohawk people in Quebec, Canada from the Kahnawake Cultural Center at See the history of Mohawks and their contribution to major buildings and sites at Smithsonian Institution Exhibit, "Booming Out."
  • Learn more about the history of Brooklyn, New York from the Brooklyn Historical Society at
  • Look for details of the Quebec Bridge Disaster that happened over 100 years ago, which took the lives of several Mohawk Ironworkers.
  • Read about Mohawk Iron Workers in Up In the Old Hotel, the Mohawks in High Steel.
  • See two related documentaries about Mohawk Iron Workers from the National Film Board of Canada, High Steel by Don Owen and Spudwrench - Kahnawake Man by Alanis Obomsawin.

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© 2015 Mushkeg Media Inc., National Film Board of Canada. All Rights Reserved. Text by Reaghan Tarbell.

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