Wrestling Among the Mohawks & George Floyd. By Doug George-Kanentiio

There is appropriate anger in the US over the killing of George Floyd in May, caused by a choke hold and compression on his neck by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.  

Despite many witnesses, some of whom recorded Floyd’s death and pleaded with Chauvin to release his knee which was forcing Floyd’s face into the pavement, the officer refused and for over 8 minutes maintained the pressure until Floyd died.

There are other instances when American police have used deadly choke holds including that of Eric Garner in 2014 and Elijah McClain in August of last year.

None of the officers involved have been convicted of homicide although Chauvin is facing an indictment for murder.

Choke holds are extremely dangerous as they cut off blood-and thereby air-to the brain which can result in cardiac arrest, strokes and seizures. It does not take long to effect serious harm-less than 10 seconds will incapacitate a victim and caused them to black out.

I know this from my childhood living in the Kanatakon district of the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory. Each Saturday afternoon we would watch the weekly professional wrestling bouts on our old, flickering black and white TV set broadcast from CFCF TV in Montreal.

These matches took place at the Paul Sauve arena in the East End of that city. Thousands of fans would attend to watch the matches but we could only dream about seeing our heroes live and tackling opponents we hated.

Our heroes were, naturally, Don Eagle and Billy Two Rivers, both from Kahnawake and famous across the continent. We would get to see them occasionally as they stopped in Akwesasne to visit with relatives and friends. We copied their moves as well with the scalp burn being a favorite.

We knew the matches were primarily entertainment but the athletic skills of the wrestlers matched any other sports activity whether football, hockey or lacrosse. These men and women were extraordinarily strong and flexible, with a 125 kg man able to deliver a flying drop kick or leap from the top of the turnbuckle and seem to fly. 

The heroes and villains were easy to identify; among the “heels” were the Destroyer, Killer Kowalski, Ivan Koloff, The Sheik, Mad Dog Vachon, Abdullah the Butcher, the Fabulous Moolah while the good guys were Eagle, Two Rivers, Edouard Carpentier and the Little Beaver. A particular favorite was Cry Baby Cannon, a hulk of a man who would sit in the middle of the ring and seemingly weep when he lost.

Once the show as over we went to our “park” which was the green lawn of the cemetery next to the St. Regis Church (the Point) or the small space of grass on the banks of the St. Lawrence to practice what we had seen. Guys like Kenny Diabo, David Leaf and his brother Frank, the White boys, Joey Jock, Gesso Thomas would come around to be met by my brothers and the matches began. 

We did moves like the figure 4 leg lock, the arm bar, the claw, scissors, hammer lock, wrist lock, head lock, chicken wing, anaconda, the various nelsons and, unrealized by us, the potentially lethal chock hold or, as we called it-the sleeper.

This move is particularly useful when a smaller opponent is wrestling someone larger. It requires enough agility to climb on the bigger guy’s back and then push their head into the crock of a bend arm then pushing the skull forward. It was very difficult to remove the choke holder and it only took less than 10 seconds before they collapsed.

To make this even more effective the scissors hold was added which involved the thighs squeezing the chest muscles and tightening the grip every time the victim breathed out. We were not warned that the sleeper could cause seizures, paralysis, strokes and cardiac arrest. We did not know permanent damage to the brain and other organs could also happen given that the body is extremely sensitive to the lack of oxygen.

We did have one firm rule-no use of fists. Punching was not permitted as it denied the close physical contact that was an essential part of wrestling. We knew that this type of combat was deeply rooted in Mohawk history and was something which built up our strength and gave us the skills to engage in real fights.

As a kid I had many such clashes with others at the St. Regis Village School where fighting was common but using fists was not.

In the instances where white cops assault defenseless black males it became obvious that those sleeper holds were now being used to kill people. George Floyd was a very large man and perhaps somewhat intimidating to the Minneapolis cops so they used a very weak excuse to gang up on him, throw him to the pavement, sit astride his body and despite his lack of resistance, apply, for over 8 minutes, a knee to neck choke hold.  

For over 8 minutes former officer Derek Chauvin cut off Floyd’s breathing and seemingly did not care who was watching. This callous killing meant to immobilize  when we knew, as kids, six to ten seconds was enough to cause a body to collapse.  Plus, it has been reported that the Minneapolis cops used this kind of restraint method 237 times in the past 5 years with 60% of the victims being black. It was also reported that the choke hold caused 16% blackouts.

More information will come out of the Floyd killing but police departments across the nation have now banned this action. It is simply too dangerous.I do recall a couple of instances when the person who was given the sleeper shaking as if having a seizure.

We did not know what to do as this could have been a medical emergency but no one at the Montreal television station warned us to refrain from these moves or what to do if someone was in real danger because of them. 

George Floyd, Eric Garner, Elijah McClain are three of the most noted victims of the sleeper and more will become known as reporters give more coverage to this crisis. For the Mohawk kids wrestling on the church lawn it was a game but tragically, for the African American people, it is just another horrific example of their treatment at the hands of those were supposed to serve and protect.

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