The Disappearance of the Beothuks
The Disappearance of the Beothuks
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Maps
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A Beothuk drawing by Shanawdithit. (National Archives of Canada, C-028544)
The arrival of European settlers on Beothuk territory, as well as wars with the Micmacs, created conflicts that led to the disappearance of this aboriginal people.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT
There are several sources that describe the relationships between the Europeans who came to North America and most Iroquois and Algonquin during colonization. There are fewer sources of information on the Beothuks, one of the first aboriginal tribes to meet the Europeans and who no longer exist today. Semi-nomadic, living as hunters-gatherers, the Beothuks lived in small, independent groups. Before the Europeans arrived, the Beothuks lived near the coast of Newfoundland [see Map 1: map of Newfoundland] during the summer to make the most of abundant fishing resources, and moved inland to their hunting grounds in the winter. The Europeans they met early in the 16th century were also fishermen using the area in-season; they set up fishing stations and wharves. Over time, the number of fishermen grew and they stayed in the area for increasingly longer periods.

SUMMARY OF THE CONFLICT
The first meeting of the Europeans and the Beothuks was at the turn of the 16th century, when the Beothuks were to be rounded up to be shipped to Europe. The Beothuks had not given a warm welcome to the European fishermen; they did not like seeing these strangers occupying their fishing grounds each summer and destroying the surrounding forests. Nor did the Europeans like the Beothuks , because they made frequent raids to steal from the Europeans' fishing stations. After a time, when fishing communities had settled permanently in Newfoundland, a succession of European governors (including John Guy) attempted to establish friendly relations with the Beothuks, but in vain. Following these unsuccessful, and even disastrous attempts, the Beothuks, in 1616, attacked French soldiers who had been sent to Newfoundland to fight them. Driven from the coast and from the south by the Europeans, the Beothuks were forced to confront their enemies, the Micmacs. Despite Royal edicts forbidding the killing of Beothuks, the massacres continued and the tribe dwindled. However, it was more than the massacre and capture of the Beothuks that led to the disappearance of this aboriginal people. Other elements played a crucial role in their disappearance: new diseases brought over from Europe, loss of access to the bays where they once fished, as well as battles between the Micmac and Beothuk nations. It was only shortly after the death of Shanawdihit (the last known Beothuk woman) that the Europeans realized that the Beothuks were on the brink of extinction. By the time William Epps Cormack founded the "Beothuk Institution," he discovered it was already too late and that the traditional way of life of the Beothuks had been destroyed forever.

Concepts
Iroquois
The Iroquois nation is one of the leading Native societies in eastern North America. This sedentary society grew crops and was matrilineal. The Hurons and Iroquois were both part of the Iroquois nation.

Algonquin
The Algonquin nation is one of the leading Native societies in eastern North America. This nomadic society relied primarily on hunting for food and was patrilineal.

Colonization
Expansion of a country by occupying and exploiting foreign lands.

Beothuks
The Beothuk nation was an aboriginal society in Eastern North America. They were semi-nomadic, living primarily from hunting, fishing, and gathering. The nation became extinct with the death of Shanawdihit in 1829.

Micmac
The Micmac nation is part of the Algonquin family. They were loyal allies of the French against British colonies.

Royal edict
Law proclaimed by the King concerning a particular subject.

Extinction
Disappearance of an entire population.