The spectacular Falls and the beautiful scenery of the Niagara River and its gorge are the greatest attractions of the American and Canadian sides of Niagara Falls. The sightseeing, tours and illuminations focus on the mist, the remarkable curtain of water vapor produced by the power of an enormous volume of falling water that is one of the chief features of the Falls. The mist also figures prominently in the ancient history of the native inhabitants of the region, and the story of the Indian maiden who came to live behind the Falls and who protected the people of the Neutral Nations is told in several ways at the Niagara attractions.
One of the newest attractions on the New York side of the Falls combines the traditions of many tribes in a “spirit journey” of native American legend, dance and costume. The Spirit of the Mist show opened in 2013, and allows Niagara visitors to connect with the history and culture of the Native Americans of Western New York and Canadian First Nations during a visit to the Falls.
Joseph Anderson, a member of the Tuscarora nation, founded the thriving native American tobacco industry as well as several other enterprises in the Niagara Region, beginning in 1985 with a smoke shop known as Smokin’ Joe’s. He began in 2012 to recruit native American folklore interpreters, artists and dancers for a show incorporating the traditions of the Western New York tribes, and turned the tobacco establishment into Smokin’ Joes Native Center, located a block from Prospect Park and the Falls attraction in downtown Niagara Falls.
The 35-minute show features several classical types of native American dance: jingle dances, fancy dances involving both men and women, the Eagle dance and the Hoop dance. The jingle in the jingle dance comes from cans of tobacco sewn onto the dresses of the dancers to simulate the healing sounds of the earth the dance is usually done for health and healing.
The fancy dances by men and women mimicked the preparation of the body for combat, and has historically been done in times of war. The Eagle dance imitates the motions of eagles, felt to have supernatural powers and to be able to travel between heaven and earth, and has been used as a means of communication with the spirits of those who have passed on. The Hoop dance is rapid and acrobatic, and uses multiple hoops to tell stories from the past.
The dancers are in elaborate and accurately-researched costumes reflecting the traditions of several tribes of the region, which generally lived harmoniously in a confederation known as the Neutral Nations. One of the dances invokes the power of thunder, embodied in the Thunder God who was said to live behind the Falls with his sons, who brought the Maid of the Mist to live with them but allowed her to appear to her people one last time through the clouds of water at the base of the Falls. Another dance recreates the courting ritual to the accompaniment of a native flute. The buffalo is honored in a dance as well as the eagle, the eagle for carrying the prayers of the people to the Creator and the buffalo as the provider of tools, clothing and food. A drumbeat resounds almost continuously through the dances, symbolizing the heartbeat of the storyteller.
The native American theatre adjoins a large retail shopping area that features tribal merchandise and the works of many local artists, in addition to an assortment of other stores. The complex also includes a coffee shop and restaurant, and operates a lottery in which visitors can win gift cards for affiliated stores and fuel stations. The shops and restaurants are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in season, and the “spirit journey” begins each night at 7:15. Tickets are sold at the Native Center and can be obtained online. The complex is located at 333 First Street in Niagara Falls, just across the Rainbow Bridge from Canada and a block from Niagara Street, which connects to Interstates 190 and 90.