The Aboriginal People of Newfoundland


Grabowski, Jan. Lecture His 2401, October 4, 1996. Email address:

Howley, James Patrick. The Beothuks or

Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland. University of

Cambridge Press., Cambridge, England. Marshall, Ingeborg. History and
the Ethnography of the BeothukMcGill)Queens University Press.: 1996,

Canada. Marshall, Ingeborg C.L.. Reports and Letters by George

Christopher Pulling: Relating to the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland

Breakwater Books.: 1989, St.John\'s, Newfoundland. Marshall, Ingeborg. The
red Ochre People: How Newfoundland\'sBeothuk Indians Lived. J.J. Douglas

Ltd.: 1977, Vancouver. Rowe, Frederick W.. EXTINCTION: The Beothuks of

Newfoundland McGraw)Hill Ryerson Limited.: 1977, Toronto.

The Beothuk people of Newfoundland were not the very first inhabitants of
the island. Thousands of years before their
arrival there existed an ancient race, named the Maritime Archaic Indians
who lived on the shores of Newfoundland. (Red Ochre Indians, Marshall, 4.)

Burial plots and polished stone tools are occasionally discovered near

Beothuk remains. Some people speculate that, because of the proximity of
the artifacts to the former lands of the Beothuk, the Maritime Archaic

Indians and the Beothuk may have been related. It is not certain when the

Beothuk arrived on the island. In fact little is actually known about the
people, compared to what is known about other amerindian civilisations,
only artifacts and stories told by elders tell the historians who these
people really were. Some speculate that they travelled from "Labrador to

Newfoundland across the strait of Belle Isle, which at one time was only

12 miles wide. By about 200 AD the Beothuk Indians were probably well
settled into Newfoundland."(Red Ochre, 8)

The Beothuk were not alone on Newfoundland wither. The Dorset

Eskimos, who came from Cape Dorset regions of the north around 500 BC also
shared the island. They presumably had contact with the Beothuk,
exchanging tools or engaging in battle. In any case the Dorset Indians
died out leaving Newfoundland empty to the control of the Beothuk people
who now had no enemies and a wide vast territory. The Beothuk, although
part of the Algonkian family developed their own language and culture. The

400 words that are still known from their language prove their Algonkian
heritage. The development of their culture was a great success. The
success of the Beothuk people as a whole was in part because of their
skills in fishing, hunting and travel. They were the "only amerindian
group to navigate on the high seas."(Grabowski lecture Oct 4,\'96.) This
was because of the construction of their canoes. Normally paddling on the
high seas is dangerous, but Beothuk canoes were so designed to with stand
high waves and stay accurately on course. The canoes "were made of a frame
work of spruce and then covered with birch bark."(Red Ochre, 9) They
curved high at the sides and a sharp bottom acted as a keel. The high
sides protected as a barrier from wave swamping the boat. Because of
hunting expeditions on the Funk islands, 60 kilometres from shore, ocean
travel was evident and sea worthiness was essential. The knowledge of
these canoes is only from documents produced by explorers and early
settlers, all that is left of the original canoes are models of canoes
found in burial sites.

"The Beothuk were a migratory people..."(Red Ochre, 14) they moved with the
seasons and
with the hunt. In fall they hunted caribou inland, in spring seals on the
coast, the summer months seafood and birds
eggs were harvested. The fall hunt was the most important, as it would
determine their success in surviving the winter months. The Beothuk
followed the patterns of migration of the caribou and laid out large traps
of fallen trees along the river banks. Trees would be left leaning against
their stumps creating a triangle to the ground. The trees would be piled
one over the next and so on and produced a "thicket that the caribou could
not penetrate or jump over."(Red Ochre, 15.) Trapping the caribou in the
water was the objective as " the animals could not move quickly in the
water."(Red Ochre,15.)

Indian people of North America have been called "red skins" for many
years. This expression comes from the european settlers who arrived in

Newfoundland and were met by the Beothuk. The Beothuk covered their entire
bodies, clothing, and weapons with a "mixture of red ochre and oil."(Red

Ochre, 4.)which protected them from the cold in winter and the mosquitoes
and other bugs in summer. Other Algonkian tribes used it, although "not so
lavishly as the Newfoundland indians."(Extinction, Rowe, 117) Some
evidence shows that some juices were used "especially alder" to paint
their bodies. "Sanku, a Micmac woman allegedly of part)Beothuk
descent...(said that)... this painting of the body was done annually at
special ceremonies