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(February 21, 2002, Gazette)

The Beothuk
By Dr. Ingeborg Marshall

Dr. Inge MarshallThe extinction of the Beothuk – at once the most distressing aspect of their history and the most complex – has often been the focus of interest in this aboriginal population. But there is more to know about the Beothuk than their tragic fate. The Beothuk were a proud and independent people who had successfully adapted to their environment and who flourished until incursions by other populations deprived them of much of their resource base. The purpose of this booklet is to a more complete picture.

It starts with an overview of the Beothuk’s position in Newfoundland prehistory, followed by an outline of their distribution and population size at the time of first contact with the Europeans, of their social organization, subsistence strategies and burial practices. With this information as a basis, attention is focussed on their history. Due to the nature of the available documentation, it largely centres on the the Beothukdevelopment of relations between the Beothuk and those Europeans who came to fish or settle in Newfoundland and on the impact of other native groups. Additional cultural information on such matters as the Beothuk’s appearance and clothing, their houses and means of transportation, and their language beliefs are described in the context of reports written by contemporary observers.

The intent of presenting cultural data in this sequence is to indicate how little people in fishing communities as well as in government knew about the traditions of their native neighbours or subjects. This lack of understanding promoted misperceptions and disregard for the Beothuk and exacerbated growing suspicion and hostile attitudes. The deterioration of relations as well as other factors that contributed to the eventual demise of the Beothuk are discussed as they emerge from the records.

The Beothuk was published by the Newfoundland Historical Society and edited by Dr. Jim Hiller, History.