Maron P (2019) The passing of the "Red Indians of Newfoundland": Colonisation and Agency in the Beothuk's extinction in the 17th-19th Centuries. Scottish Association for the Study of America Annual Conference 2019, Edinburgh, 02.03.2019-02.03.2019.
Abstract Achieving subsequent notoriety as the “Red Indians” for the conspicuous use of ochre on their bodies, the Beothuk were the main indigenous inhabitants of Newfoundland at the time of contact with Europeans at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Living mainly on the inner coast from marine and riverine resources, they also hunted inland during winter to complement their diet. The arrival of the Europeans changed this: the settling along the coast by seasonal fishermen started to progressively cut the Beothuk off from their traditional resources. This Native community slowly retreated inland and closed in on themselves, coming to the coasts only at night to steal European items, and attacking isolated parties, which in turn brought mistrust and retaliation from the settlers. The reduction of their territory, their access to their hunting grounds, combined with various environmental factors, the colonists’ technological advantages and persecution of them, and the natural ally of all new colonies, diseases, eventually had the upper hand on the tribe who dwindled toward extinction from the middle of the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. After the death of the young captive Shanawdithit on June 6, 1829, the “Red Indians of Newfoundland” were declared a defunct cultural entity.
While the different schools of interpretation have offered valid explanations for their disappearance, the Beothuk as a people have mostly been denied an aspect of their short presence in the historical record: their free will and community agency in the “middle ground. Through archival research and a close reading of the main source documents, this paper outlines how scholarship can give the Beothuk their right place back in their own history, and complicate their image as a doomed tribe, the victims of colonists and Nature, and unable to adequately respond to either.
Keywords Beothuk; Newfoundland; Red Indians; Taboo; Colonialism