Birch Bark Canoe

Niagara's Indigenous Legacy

Objects that reveal the presence of Indigenous peoples, their art and history in the Niagara region, extending back hundreds of generations up to the present day.

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The Niagara Region was a place of awe and wonder for the Indigenous peoples who first walked this land. Their ancestors' footsteps arrived approximately 13,000 years ago as the melting glaciers retreated northward, revealing the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario and the mighty Niagara River while giving genesis to an environment rich with life.

Exhibit Overview

Explore the Collection

Plywood Arrowhead Board

First Footprints

Within the Indigenous collections of Niagara Falls History Museum is found evidence dating back to the earliest human inhabitation of the region. From the Paleoindian Period reaching back 13,000 years, through the Archaic and Woodland Periods, to European contact and modern times, Indigenous peoples have always been an essential part of Niagara.

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Birchbard Canoe

Extending the Rafters

Engagement with Europeans changed the relationships that Indigenous peoples had among themselves and with nature. New materials, tools, and weapons were introduced, as were new ideas such as market economics and imported geopolitical conflicts that fostered competition and divided loyalties between First Nations.

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Portion of a Beaded Purse

Beaded Beauties

Shell beads were used by Indigenous peoples to create adornments early in their cultural development in the Niagara Region. When colorful glass beads were introduced from Europe they were quickly integrated into Indigenous artistic practice. Tuscarora raised beadwork emerged and became a style associated with the Niagara Falls tourist trade.

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Clip of a painting of a person in a canoe

Selling Stereotypes

As Niagara Falls increasingly became a tourist destination, images of Indigenous peoples were often used, either incorrectly or in exaggerated form, to attract and entertain visitors. The Maid of the Mist story is a prime example of this effect, where the tourist version is quite different from that of the traditional Seneca version.

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Face carving shard

Signature Logo Object

The signature object that has been selected for the exhibition logo is that of a face effigy which was carved into a smoking pipe. Cultural imagery was sometimes added to pipes in the form of figures carved in relief, as this shard reveals. The figures often represented powerful animal symbols, such as turtles or salamanders, which could move between the realms of water and land, or various birds, which could move between the realms of land and air. In this particular example, the figure appears to be that of a human face, representing the longstanding inhabitation of the Niagara Region by Indigenous peoples.

David Labbe taking photographs on the waterfront

Video Library

By watching these videos join exhibition curators Rob MacDonald, Rick Hill, and Dave Labbe as they explain the source materials, uses, and beauty of the Indigenous artifacts in the collections of the Niagara Falls History Museum. And see if you can help solve the mystery of the bannerstones! What are they and why were they made? The collections hold many fascinating objects designed to fascinate, excite, and inspire.

Image of a Canadian Dime with a width of 18.03 mm

Photographic Reference Scale

In lieu of using a photographic reference scale (which looks something like a small checkerboard ruler) to help provide viewers with an understanding of the size of the objects, we have used a Canadian dime. The dime, which does not require additional visual interpretation or calculation when referencing an object, provides an immediate sense of ratio or scale. For technical purposes, the diameter of a dime is 18.03 mm.