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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Niagara Falls


The powerful Seneca nation lives near Niagara Falls in present-day Canada. For several years, they experienced crop failure from frost. An epidemic followed, killing many of their nation.

One day a young Seneca girl went into a little cave above the falls to bathe. Suddenly a large rattlesnake attacked her. When she tried to escape, she fell into the rapids, which swept her onto the cataract. By a miracle, the water swirled her into the Cave-of-the-Winds, behind the falls.

There lived the Good Spirit of Thunder and Lightning. It was he who created the mist, which ascended toward the heavens and formed clouds, out of which came the Lightning. Good Spirit told the young girl that also under the waterfall lived Evil Spirit of Famine and Starvation. It was he who caused the crops to fail.

Evil Spirit also controlled a huge Water Serpent that lived in the Niagara River and Lake Erie. Often the Serpent came to the little bay of the river, just above the falls. He cleaned himself there, poisoning the water, which the Senecas used for drinking and cooking.

"Your water is poisoned," said Good Spirit to the girl. "Because of that many of your nation have died. I want you to return to your people and report to your Chief what I now tell you.

"Your whole nation must move at once. Your people must pack all of their property and load their canoes. They must go from the Chippewa River up the Niagara River and make a new settlement on Buffalo Creek. There they will grow good crops and enjoy themselves again.

"I know the Evil Spirit will send his Water Serpent after you. Tell your Chief that I will follow the Senecas in a dark cloud. I will send lightning and a thunderbolt upon Water Serpent and kill him, if he does follow you."

Immediately, the young girl went to the Chief of the Senecas and repeated all that Good Spirit had said. The nation packed and moved as they were directed. Water Serpent followed the canoes.

The Senecas arrived at their new landing site and heard a loud thunderbolt when a lightning flash struck the monster. It thrashed in the water with great force, scooping out a broad basin in Buffalo Creek, which formed the now-famous "horseshoe" of Niagara Falls, according to Seneca storytellers.

After the Senecas had set up a temporary camp, the young girl said, "Can we now send our chiefs to visit Good Spirit and honour him for his kindness to us?"

When the tribal chiefs reached the little bay below Buffalo Creek, they saw the dead Water Serpent. In the village, they saw the Evil Spirit of Famine and Starvation hanging from a high pole. The chiefs thanked the Good Spirit of Thunder and Lightning for the safety of the Seneca nation.

Good health and fine crops always have been theirs ever since Chief of the Senecas obeyed the Good Spirit by moving his nation as directed.




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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.


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