Monday, December 8, 2014

Maid of the Mist: A False Legend, Part l

Thousands of tourists from all over the world have boarded “Maid of the Mist” boats at Niagara Falls in order to get a closer look at the falls.

Maid of the Mist tour.

When this corporation based out of New York began these tours in 1846 they capitalized on a local legend entitled the “Maid of the Mist” that had been told since the 17th century. They even named their boats after it.

When they told this tale on their inaugural voyage it was considered to be fact. Up until recent years, this tale was still told on a recording that played on these tours.

The Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee * or Iroquois people had a major problem with this story being told. For this tale known more specifically as The Legend of Lelawala misrepresented their culture and traditions.

Recently, the president of the Maid of the Mist Corp. agreed to stop playing this tale on his boats when Seneca Nation members with other Haudenosaunee support threatened to protest his company if they did not stop promoting this incorrect version of the tale to its customers.

* Haudenosaunee is said “Ho dee noes ho nee” meaning-- People Building a Long House.

Long House

A False Legend

The man most to blame for this false tale was Robert Cavelier de La Salle. He was a European explorer that made contact with the Iroquois in 1679.

He traded his knowledge on guns and ammunition in exchange for the Native people giving him information on agriculture, hunting and gathering techniques.

In his writings about his visit with the Haudenosaunee he mentions that they practiced “human sacrifice.”

Young pretty maidens were sent to their deaths in a canoe over Niagara Falls. He states he witnessed this firsthand.

He writes that he watched as a virgin maiden--a chief’s daughter named Lelawala was chosen as that years’ sacrifice--this was to appease a God that was killing off the Indians.

At the last moment the chief changed his mind and darted after her in his own canoe but both fell over the Falls to their deaths.

Years later, de La Salle’s wife announced her husband’s account was false. She stated he had wanted to portray the Haudenosaunee as an “ignorant people.” The reason for this was to make it easy to take their land so they could colonize the area.

So her husband set out to “demonize” them so there would be no sympathy for them, and even more important so the colonization would not be opposed.

He also hoped the dark picture he painted would meet with approval from the King and Queen of France. Their financial backing was needed for more expeditions.

The Haudenosaunee people treated de La Salle with “intelligence and hospitality” --this makes his false representations even worse.

A Cruel God and Human Sacrifice

The Haudenosaunee especially took offense at to two concepts presented in the Legend of Lelawala. **

First, this legend includes a God, Hirnum that needs to be appeased or he will kill the natives. In contrast, the Haudenosaunee Gods are positive deities. They only want peace and love for the people.

The second part caused an even greater offense. The Haudenosaunee people never performed human sacrifices.

In fact, this culture holds their woman in the highest regard. Unlike the Europeans that came to colonize--the Haudenosaunee woman played critical roles and responsibilities within their government and communities.

Corn farming.
They were one of the first peoples to have suffrage.

** The Legend of Lelawala is based on a real Haudenosaunee legend but the two have little in common--except both maidens go over the Falls.

In Part ll of Maid of the Mist: A Lie I share both the false legend and the real Haudenosaunee legend that it is based upon.

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