The World of Shanawdithit

The story of the last years of the Beothuk Nation is one of successful ethnocide: the cultural practices, spiritual beliefs, language and songs of the Beothuk are not practiced today and much has been lost to history. Outside of these drawings, much of our present-day understanding of Beothuk people has been filtered through a European lens, and most of the scholarship was written by settlers or Europeans sometimes more than a century later. Cultural belongings remain, but have been catalogued and interpreted by modern-day scholars who have no access to practitioners of Beothuk culture, and most of whom are not Indigenous themselves. Though Shanawdithit is regularly described as the last of the Beothuk, it is increasingly clear that Beothuk bloodlines live on through intermarriages with Mi’kmaq and Innu Nations in the area.

From the remains of tools, weapons, and dwellings, we know that the Beothuk hunted salmon, seal, and caribou as their main sources of food, augmented by martens, beavers, seafood, and plant species. When the Europeans first arrived, they built seasonal fisheries which were abandoned at the end of the season, leaving behind iron hooks and tools that were integrated into the daily practices of the Beothuk. Once the French and English settlements became permanent and year-round, they began to drive the Beothuk inland and away from their food sources, and violent conflicts increased. Many factors contributed to the end of the Beothuk as a distinct cultural group, all of them related to colonialism: a combination of violence, sickness, and starvation caused the deaths of most Beothuk people.

Special thanks to Jordan Bennett, Meagan Musseau, and Jerry Evans for workshopping this framework.

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