The name Niagara is said to originate from an Iroquois word ‘Onguiaahra’ meaning ‘The Strait’ or ‘Thunder of Waters’. The region’s original inhabitants were the Ongiara, an Iroquois tribe named the ‘Neutrals’ by French settlers who found them helpful in mediating disputes between the warring Hurons and Iroquois tribes. The Neutrals lived almost entirely in what is now southern Ontario, with a few villages to the East across the Niagara River in upstate New York. Although the name they used to identify themselves is now lost, the Hurons called them ‘Attawandaron’ which means ‘people of a slightly different language’.
Long ago, the peaceful tribe of the Ongiaras lived beside the Niagara River. For an unknown reason, Indians were dying, and it was believed that the tribe must appease the Thunder God Hinum, who lived with his two sons in a cave behind the Falls. At first, the Indians sent canoes laden with fruit, flowers and game over the Falls, but the dying continued. The Indians then began to sacrifice the most beautiful maiden of the tribe, who was selected once a year during a ceremonial feast. One year, Lelawala, daughter of Chief Eagle Eye was chosen. On the appointed day, Lelawala appeared on the river bank above the Falls, wearing a white doeskin robe with a wreath of woodland flowers in her hair. She stepped into a white birch bark canoe and plunged over the Falls to her death. Her father, heartbroken, leaped into his canoe and followed her. Hinum’s two sons caught Lelawala in their arms, and each desired her. She promised to accept the one who told her what evil was killing her people. The younger brother told her of a giant water snake that lay at the bottom of the river. Once a year, the monster snake grew hungry, and at night entered the village and poisoned the water. The snake then devoured the dead. As spirit, Lelawala told her people to destroy the serpent. Indian braves mortally wounded the snake on his next yearly visit to the village. Returning to his lair on the river, the snake caught his head on one side of the river and his tail on the other, forming a semi-circle and the brink of the Horseshoe Falls. Lelawala returned to the cave of the God Hinum, where she reigns as the Maid of the Mist.