Apologies to the Iroquois

by Edmund Wilson

Other authorsJoseph Mitchell (Author)
Hardcover, 1960




New York : Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960. Rust cloth, no dust jacket.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
This volume contains two works, each of which pertain to the Iroquois peoples, and each of which appeared originally in the pages of The New Yorker magazine. The first is a short essay (30 pages, or so) entitled A Study of the Mohawks in High Steel by Joseph Mitchell. It traces the history of Mohawk involvement in the construction of high steel structures, from the 1886 railroad bridge built across the St. Lawrence by the Dominion Bridge Company, through the then-present day (I believe that this was first published in 1949). It focuses on the residents of Caughnawaga (Kahnawake), and provides some very cursory background information on the history and culture of the Mohawk.

The second work, and by far the longer, is Edmund Wilson's Apologies to the Iroquois, so named because the author once informed a visitor from England that there were only a few Indians left in New York State, and that the Mohicans and the Mohawks were the same people. This work represents his efforts to correct the errors in his own knowledge and thinking, and to investigate the then-current (ca. 1957) state of the Iroquois people. It is divided into nine chapters (perhaps they were published as separate articles?), each devoted to a different nation and/or topic, and the trips that Wilson undertook to research them. These range in theme from the political to the social, and include everything from the resistance of the Tuscarora to the efforts to flood much of their land, as well as the Seneca fight against the Kinzua Dam project, to the False Face society and other cultural ceremonies and rituals.

First, let me say that I found this entire book both informative and well-written. I had been vaguely aware of Mohawk involvement in high-steel construction, having read Joseph Bruchac's children's novel Eagle Song, in which the father works in steel. So Joseph Mitchell's essay was most welcome, with its discussion of the history of Mohawk participation in this industry, and the Mohawk community in Brooklyn. I only wish I could find a similar article about the contemporary Iroquois presence in NYC. I found myself wondering whether a lot of Mohawks worked on the Twin Towers, and how they felt after 9/11.

Apologies to the Iroquois was my first foray into the work of Edmund Wilson, though I hope not my last. One cannot accept Wilson as an authority on anything he writes here, since he is essentially a beginning student, and an outsider at that, but I did find it refreshing to read a work from this period that was sympathetic to the Native American side, and whose author was willing to publicly own up to his ignorance of the topic at hand. His explorations of various cultural institutions and ceremonies made me want to read more, particularly about Handsome Lake and his spiritual revolution (I think I will have to bump The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca up on my list). One thing I found rather annoying, but in a somewhat poignant way, was Wilson's optimistic appraisal of the Tuscarora and Seneca campaigns to resist the then-current encroachment on their lands. He seems to assume that they will succeed, since their campaigns were founded on a rational analysis of the facts and an insistence on justice. Of course, the modern reader is well aware that neither nation was successful, and this knowledge makes the book's analysis seem somewhat anachronistic. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20, and there are worse things, I am sure, than hoping that right will prevail...
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