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As Niagara Falls / Tales of the strange but true

>Sign of the times

The Indians were here first.

The name Niagara is from the Seneca word neahga, which means neck or straight and refers to the Niagara River as it connects Lakes Erie and Ontario.

Native Americans continue to make a comeback in the Falls.

The Seneca Indian Nation owns the city's largest hotel and only casino.

Millionaire Tuscarora Indian Smokin' Joe Anderson owns the former Wintergarden, now a family entertainment center.

And now, the popular Hard Rock Cafe in Niagara Falls has been bought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida -- along with 130 other Hard Rock establishments worldwide.

"This is the first time in the history of the United States that a city has returned land to Native Americans," said Niagara historian and author Paul Gromosiak, who has written about local Indian lore.

Last week, Gromosiak said he saw another sign of the growing native climate: a male deer, a stag with huge antlers, standing regally on top of Allied Waste Industries' huge grassy landfill at Niagara Falls Boulevard and the I-190.

"I've seen pheasants there, but this is the first time I've seen a deer," Gromosiak said.

"The mysterious appearance of the deer," Gromosiak said, "which Indians consider a brother and is the name of one of their clans, is a sure sign that the Indians are reclaiming what was rightfully theirs from the beginning -- the Niagara Frontier."

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>Holiday highlights

The agenda read a bit like the script for "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," but seasonal splendor sparkled at last week's North Tonawanda Board of Education meeting.

Holiday ties and sweaters added color to the grim session, which included discussion of the stagnated sale of the former Lowry Middle School to Kevin Gersh.

Getting A's in dress were:

* Superintendent Vincent Vecchiarella for a tie depicting Looney Tunes characters in Santa hats.

* Board President Scott Schultz for his fashionable all-black attire, set off by a bright holiday-themed tie.

* Board clerk John Tylec for a tie of holiday ornaments.

* And Assistant Superintendent Susan Villiers for a black sweater with a large green sequined Christmas tree.

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>Falls reverberates

The feel and splendor of Niagara Falls can move people from far away -- like Boston, Mass., for instance.

A group of top-notch high school musicians from across Massachusetts demonstrated as much Sunday in the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall. The finale they chose for their performance was a rumbling piece called "Niagara Falls."

The piece was written in 1997 by American composer Michael Daugherty for the 100th anniversary of the University of Michigan Symphonic Band.

Daugherty, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a professor of composition at Michigan, describes the piece online as "a ten-minute musical ride over the Niagara River with an occasional stop at a haunted house or wax museum along the way. Its principal musical motif is a haunting chromatic phrase of four tones corresponding to the syllables of Niagara Falls and repeated in increasingly Gothic proportions . . .

"My composition," he writes, "is a meditation on the American Sublime."

Westborough High School junior Abby Schachter was among the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble members who performed the piece in Boston.

"It's very hard," Schachter described "Niagara Falls" to her hometown paper. "The percussion part is so demanding and complicated; some people had to be taken out of the winds section to play it."

With contributions from Bill Michelmore, Laura E. Winchester, Scott Scanlon and Thomas J. Prohaska of the News Niagara Bureau.

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