For her contribution to the scholarly understanding of the Beothuk, Ingeborg Marshall was awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree at fall convocation in St. John’s on Friday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m.
As a student at Hamburg University, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States where she attended both Sarah Lawrence College and Bucknell University from 1958-60. She moved to Newfoundland in 1968 where she completed her undergraduate degree and became chief cataloguer at the Newfoundland Museum.
An undergraduate paper on Beothuk decorated bone pieces, published in the Newfoundland Quarterly, led to a deeper interest in this group of native people. A children’s book, a master’s thesis and two more books led up to her master work: A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk, published in 1996. The book was shortlisted for the Innis Book Prize, Editor’s Choice of the Globe and Mail, and selected as one of Choice magazine’s Outstanding Academic Books in 1997.
Oration honouring Ingeborg Marshall, given by Dr. Danine Farquharson, University Orator
In his book Songlines, travel writer Bruce Chatwin describes the aboriginal peoples of Australia as singing the land into existence. Because the people and the land are one, by the very act of singing the land, the land itself lives and breathes. But what of the land and culture of a people who no longer exist? Who sings then? The tenacious historian and ethnographer whom I am now to present has made it her life’s work to bring the voices of the Beothuk back into the songlines of Newfoundland and Labrador.
To sing the land and the people, you must know the land and to know the land you must travel through it. Songlines, however, do not move in linear, clear-cut paths and so Ingeborg Marshall’s journey has not been simple or straigthforward.
Mr. Chancellor, Ingeborg Marshall’s journey began in Deutch-Eylau, Germany where she was born. Following World War II, she and her family went to Torgau, but then had to flee into West Germany. She made her way to Hamburg, where she began her postsecondary training. But her travels did not end there: she continued to the United States after winning Fulbright Scholarships to Bucknell University and Sarah Lawrence College. In 1968, Ingeborg Marshall came to St. John’s with her husband and family. Gripped by the Beothuk artifacts at the Newfoundland Museum, Marshall’s journey took an epic turn across more continents and for many more years. Her future expeditions in search of Beothuk material defied expectations and culminated in the publication of what is universally considered the definitive and essential reference work on the Beothuk.
Undaunted by skeptics who said there was simply not enough evidence of the Beothuk to study or to develop a story of their lives, she immersed herself in archaeological field work as both assistant and principal investigator across the island of Newfoundland from Notre Dame Bay to Eastern Indian Island. Ingeborg Marshall trained as an archivist and completed an MA in Anthropology at Memorial University and her masters’ thesis on Beothuk canoes was published by the National Museum.
Ingeborg Marshall never permitted the barriers of time, space or funding to prevent her quest for documentation and evidence of her subject matter. An historical sleuth par excellence, Marshall’s remarkable memory, partnered with sheer hard work and persistence has produced a series of documents that have bequeathed to future scholars a vital, living portrait of the Beothuk. She has also brought her successful finds and insights into the public realm in both scholarly and popular publications. As Honorary Research Associate with the Institute of Social and Economic Research, and as visiting artist in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, she has lectured on the Beothuk at schools, museums, heritage societies and community centres. Her publications include over 15 scholarly articles and chapters and six books on the Beothuk.
However, the ultimate achievement of over 25 years of passionate and meticulous research is her History and Ethnography of the Beothuk. This exhaustive and erudite study of Newfoundland’s native peoples was shortlisted for the Innis Book Prize, was named one of the Globe and Mail’s “Editor’s Choice” books and won the CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book Award in 1997. It has been praised as “essential” “masterful” “definitive” and “engaging.” Moreover, she is quoted and consulted by writers of fiction and poetry, documentary filmmakers, musicians, artists, archivists, historians, aboriginal rights activists and students of first nations culture the world over. And her endeavours are by no means finished. Ingeborg Marshall maintains a vibrant life of the mind: answering inquiries, aiding other researchers, collaborating on a biography of William Eppes Cormack, and continuing her search for still undiscovered Beothuk material. For the lines she has traversed, for the songs she has brought to life, and for the voices she has given to Newfoundland’s lost people and culture, Mr. Chancellor,
I present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, (honoris causa), Ingeborg Constanze Luise Marshall.
Address to convocation
As an alumnus of Memorial University I greatly value this institution as a place of learning and of support for scholarly endeavors. It is a special honour to receive an honorary degree from Memorial, and from a community that has been my home for nearly 40 years, and I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the University Senate for awarding it to me.
I also wish to congratulate my fellow graduates who are convocating today for having achieved an important milestone in your lives and to congratulate your teachers and parents for helping you to reach this goal. I believe education to be vital for the preservation of a vibrant culture and the health of a society. Given your excellent preparation I am confident that you will succeed in whatever you choose to take on and that you will make a difference in the lives of many. I hope you will never stop learning, that you will not only continue to study but will always be open to new ideas and to changes in the fields of education and associated technologies that are inevitably ahead of you. You are likely to have some plans of where to go from here. I would encourage you to set your sights high, whether you aspire to a higher degree or to a challenging job, and to aim at enjoying what you do. Seize opportunities wherever they arise and don’t hesitate to explore the world – though, best of all – we would like you to return some day to this wonderful province and to share your experience and your gifts with this community. But whatever you do, be committed, consider yourself accountable, aim at contributing something worthwhile to society, and remain true to your personal values.
My own career progressed very slowly but I never lost sight of my goal to continue my education. Looking back, I realize that sometimes the major moments of change in life, such as this convocation for you, contain other, more subtle beginnings. I came to Newfoundland in 1968, as the wife of a faculty member with three young children and my degree not completed. On our first day in St. John’s I took the children to the Newfoundland Museum and was particularly struck by the delicate Beothuk bone carvings. When I became a hobby artist I used the carvings as a template for copper plate etchings. This pre-occupation with Beothuk art re-kindled a childhood interest in North American native peoples and inspired me to learn more about the Newfoundland Beothuk in particular. But I noted that many stories – often penned by mainland writers – were fictitious and that reliable sources were very limited because much information on the Beothuk had vanished with their demise.
Several years after completing my bachelor’s degree I entered the master’s degree program at Memorial University with a personal goal of focusing on Beothuk research and writing a comprehensive study of their history and ethnography. The program involved field work and this was not always easy with a family. On one trip to the Bay of Exploits I had to take our three young children along. They best liked the boat rides and the cook-outs on beaches. But our scrambles to caves awakened an interest in our province’s past and our elder son has later assisted me on several field trips.
Over the years I have conducted a number of archaeological surveys in search of Beothuk remains. This has been not only a systematic process of inquiry but also an experience of extraordinary helpfulness by residents, whose local knowledge enabled me to find several Beothuk sites. To name just a few:
There was Mr. Lloyd Watkins from Cottle’s Island who brought me in his boat to a Beothuk burial that he knew about at Spirit Cove. It was in a disturbed state, but its structure is unique and some artifacts could still be collected.
On Long Island, in western Notre Dame Bay, Mr. Wes Caravan took me through heavy ice floes to a large cave at North China Head, where I recovered several Beothuk carvings. Mr. Dawson Fudge and his brother Clifford brought me to a beautiful cave on the southern shore of that island where I found Beothuk and Dorset artifacts, and Mr. Ford Paddock showed me a Beothuk cave on Indian Head and Indian holes on cobble stone beaches – to name just a few.
Not all my field surveys were successful. One of these was with Mr. Simms from Little Bay who boated me to an isolated location where I wanted to look for a Beothuk site marked on a map by John Cartwright from 1769. Mr. Simms was reluctant to leave me for the day because he had seen bears there – admittedly I was somewhat nervous myself – but I found neither a site nor bears.
When there were no motels or other accommodation, I always found a kind soul who would take me into her home for a few nights, such as Mrs. Betty Travers on Pilley =s Island, with whom I have kept in contact. Altogether, it has been an experience that I believe could only happen in Newfoundland - the kind that Americans who were stranded here on 9/11 were so amazed about – of being assisted, as a relative stranger, with so much kindness and generosity.
Early in my searches for information on the Beothuk I learned the wisdom of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” as one often has to persist with conviction to achieve one’s goal. Thus, it had become clear to me that a systematic search of the Colonial Office, Admiralty, church and other records was required and I was able to do this during my husband’s sabbatical leave in. It turned out to be an arduous but rewarding task. I was also successful in locating private collections, including the papers of J.P. Howley, author of The Beothuks or Red Indians, William Eppes Cormack who had the Beothuk Shanawdithit stay with him, and John and George Cartwright, who, in 1768, led the first expedition to Red Indian Lake. Having traced the descendants of the Cartwright brothers to Johannesburg, , I was invited to stay with Mrs. Cartwright to examine the family papers. When I was shown into the guest room, lo and behold, hanging over the bed was the oil painting of George Cartwright in his Labrador outfit on which the well-known lithograph of George Cartwright is based. I hope this painting will one day, soon, be brought to Canada.
I was in my mid-50s when I received my master’s degree but there was no appointment or job in the offing. This turned out to be a blessing, because it gave me the opportunity to devote myself to my all-absorbing passion of research and writing about the Beothuk as a private scholar. People have since told me they wished they had a passion of this kind in their life and I agree that my interest has provided me with a wonderful and exciting journey.
Even though it was the bone carvings that had originally piqued my curiosity, the focus of my study became Beothuk culture and history and the reasons for their extinction. As I am here today as a result of my efforts to advance our knowledge of the Beothuk perhaps it is appropriate at this point to reflect on their demise and say a few words about the future.
The fate of the Beothuk parallels that of many native groups in the north-eastern United States in which epidemics, destructive wars by Europeans and intertribal conflict played an important part, but it was the subjugation by Europeans that is believed to have brought about their final disintegration. In Canada, though many native people have suffered as a result of European occupation, the Beothuk were the only group that became extinct. In contrast to the causes cited for the, it was mainly their loss of access to resources, persecution, tuberculosis, and the Beothuk’s commitment to revenge as well as their resistence to any form of subjugation that led to their demise.
We have come to acknowledge that the extinction of the Beothuk was closely linked to prejudice towards native people, to lack of respect for their culture and way of life, and to disregard for their right to this country and its resources. Today, many people in this province and elsewhere regret the course of events that led to the Beothuk’s destruction and are anxious to preserve and honour their memory. Artistic expressions commemorating the Beothuk include songs, poems, novels, drama, a musical, an opera, and the statue “Spirit of the Beothuk” by Gerry Squires. In 1997, a group of interested people revived the Beothuk Institute that was originally founded in Twillingate, in 1827, with the new mandate of promoting knowledge about the Beothuk and other aboriginal peoples in this province. Initiated by the institute, geneticists from Memorial and McMaster Universities have recently embarked on a study of Beothuk DNA. It should provide more clues about the origin of the Beothuk and establish an approximate time span to their most recent common ancestors with the Innu and Mikmaq, We expect that the study will show what archaeological, linguistic, and historic evidence is already suggesting, namely that these three native groups are relatively closely related. I hope that we can harness our regret about the demise of the Beothuk and use our energies to support the native people in this province in their effort to revive their cultural traditions and identity, to have a stronger voice in the decision making process that affects their communities and to regain control over their lives. I believe, we are all called upon to assist in this process.
In closing I wish the graduates a bright and happy future. I hope you will joyfully commence successful careers that will give you opportunities to be of service to others and bring satisfaction for yourself. I would also encourage you to “find your passion” or as the well-known expert on mythology, Joseph Campbell, used to say “follow your bliss” and do not give up on your goals and dreams.