Collage of canoe, painting, pottery and beaded purse

Empathic Traditions

Niagara's Indigenous Legacy

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.

In this exhibition, Empathic Traditions: Niagara's Indigenous Legacy, objects selected from the Indigenous collections of the Niagara Falls History Museum reveal the presence of Indigenous peoples, their art and history in the region, extending back hundreds of generations up to the present day. Vivid imagery of the artifacts combined with interpretive information help us understand what life was like for those who first arrived.

By examining projectile points, stone tools, pottery shards, jewelry, and other ancient creations, as well as historic and contemporary items, we learn about the cultural connections Indigenous peoples developed with nature and their relationships with Europeans. We learn how the necessity of survival required the design of useful tools, how function influenced form, and how form created objects of great beauty. If nature is aesthetically pleasing and inspirational then Niagara Falls must be considered a muse of epic proportion. From the first human encounter with the mighty cataracts, artful interpretation ensued.

Staff working on the Empathic Traditions project

Members of the Empathic Traditions exhibition team gathered during the first day of object retrieval and photography. Pictured are, at centre, Project Director Tim Johnson, and left to right, Sara Byers, Suzanne Moase, Amanda Harwood, Culture and Museums Manager Clark Bernat, Andrea Carnevale, Rob MacDonald, and photographer Mark Zelinski. Not pictured are Associate Director Michele-Elise Burnett, Indigenous Curator Rick Hill, Community Curator Dave Labbe, Associate Director Michael Gruyich, Web Designer David Beyer, Video Editor Ryan Johnson, and Web Services Administrator Shawn Oatley.

When we reference Empathic Traditions, we're talking about the repetitive gratitude that is expressed through the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address (Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, Words Before All Else) and other Indigenous teachings intended to stimulate empathic responses that nourish the emotional and intellectual development of the human being. Maturity is achieved when a consciousness blossoms that recognizes the enormous responsibility humans have — as extremely powerful life forms — to protect and support the very same creatures, elements, and energies that sustain human life. Such teachings constitute a cultural value system that requires both acknowledgement and reciprocity. These teachings produce cultural value systems that promote environmental stewardship, conservation, and ecological restoration. And they reinforce the reality that we humans must live in concert with the natural laws that govern the universe.

The introductory text and object labels you will see in this exhibit feature Indigenous voices as well as that of historical, archeological, artistic, and community experts.