1) Briefly describe the Indigenous society you have been assigned.

The Beothuk were one of the first ever recorded tribes of North America by the Europeans. The native tribe was contacted on what we consider mainland of modern day Newfoundland and possibly even on the coast of Labrador, on the Canadian east coast. The Beothuk were a generally small tribe, numbering in no more than 200 people in any one territory at the time of contact. They were first contacted by the Norse, who reported them looking like “trolls” as they were very little people with “big eyes… and broad cheeks.” They used carved whale bones, teeth and sharp rocks for their tools and utensils up until the arrival of migratory European fishermen in the 16th century. When the fishermen left the villages during the off seasons [fishing] the Beothuk would raid the items left behind and find metal utensils such as forks, nails, old fish hooks, and scissors, which were then refurbished as useful tools to the Beothuk. Some research tells us that members of the Beothuk were forced to migrate inland and further North due to the overwhelming influx of Europeans, and others say they stood their ground and kept to their own traditions up until they eventually died out, but which is the more accurate is unclear.


Dickason, Olive P. “Chapter 5; Inuit and Beothuk.” Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times. Toronto, Ontario 1992. 85-97.


2) With whom did these people come into contact (individuals or nationalities)?

We know very little about the Beothuk people’s first encounters with Europeans. It is possible that Norse explorers came into contact with the Beothuk or an ancestor ethnic group when they traveled to Newfoundland around 1000 C.E. Later contact with Europeans occurred in the 16th century, but little is known about it. There is, however,  some evidence of a casual “silent barter” system that involved one party leaving goods at a customary sport to be replaced by goods left by a second party.  The Beothuk acquired iron needles, copper pots, hatchets and knives which they modified to suit various purposes. They generally avoided direct contact with Europeans and often gathered objects left at abandoned European camps, lessening their need or desire to trade.
In the early 17th century there is still little evidence of trade between the Beothuk and European settlers, unlike other contacted indigenous peoples of the east coast. However, there was one notable exception involving an English colonizer named John Guy who in the fall of 1612 met the Beothuk in Trinity Bay. However, after this meeting their appears to be no record of interactions between the Beothuk and Europeans. This changes in the 18th century, when reports of conflicts increase. In 1768, the English naval governor Hugh Palliser sent Lieutenant John Cartwright up the Exploits River to make peaceful contact with the Beothuk but despite recording a number of dwellings, the English were unable to meet with them. In 1797, proclamations were issued offering rewards for making contact with the Beothuk, but little came from them.
The last substantial attempt to make contact with the Beothuk occurred in 1811, when Governor John Duckworth sent Lt. David Buchan up the Exploits River. Buchan attempted to convince them that his intentions were peaceful and left two men as hostages while he went to gather more presents downriver. When he returned he discovered the Beothuk had killed the men and deserted the camp.
As English settlers pushed deeper into the interior of Newfoundland, the Beothuk increasingly raided European buildings for goods to live on. In 1818 a group of Beothuk stole a boat of goods belonging to John Peyton Senior, a well-to-do English settler. In the late winter of 1819, he retaliated by having a group of men attack a Beothuk village where they killed a number of inhabitants.
The last contact with the Beothuk occurred in 1823 when three starving and sick Beothuk women surround to a Newfoundland settler in Notre Dame Bay. Two of these women died before they could be returned to their people and the last was brought into the home of John Peyton Jr., son of John Peyton Sr. This woman, named Shanawdithit, would live with him for five years, during which time it is possible that the last remnants of here people died out. As the last known Beothuk women, her death in 1829 marked the extinction of the Beothuk people.


“A History of the Beothuk, a talk given by Ingeborg Marshall at the launch of her book A History and Ethnography of the Beothuk, at the meeting of the Newfoundland Historical Society, St. John’s, 19th Sept. 1996.”, Beothuk History, accessed September 25, 2013,

“Post-Contact Beothuk”, Aboriginal Peoples of Newfoundland and Labrador, last modified 1997, accessed September 25, 2013,


3) Where did these people come into contact?

The Beothuk people are believed to be the first indigenous people to have been in contact with Europeans. Contact with the Europeans dates back to the fifteen and sixteen-hundreds, however historical evidence shows that’s the Norse (Viking) people had come in contact with the ancestors of the later Beothuk around 1000 C.E. The First European Beothuk contact during the fifteen to sixteen hundreds likely occurred in the Placentia Bay between Labrador and Nova Scotia with the French. During the time of this contact the French and Beothuk had no problem with trading with the French and upon their arrival the Beothuk people boarded the vessels without fear. Over time, however, the Beothuk became frustrated with the efforts of the French to become to involve with political and economic affairs by trying to appoint Chiefs themselves and encouraging agriculture. The Placentia Bay area began as the first settling place of the French in Labrador, which then spread out leaving the Beothuk increasingly isolated as the French slowly took over.


4) For what purpose were Europeans in this area?

The initial attraction of white settlers came from the rich fishing grounds on the shores of Newfoundland. When the first fishermen started to settle down and the population increased, the settlers became increasingly interested in the other resources and lucrative trade items the island had to offer, namely salmon, feathers (from waterfowl) and furs. Some texts also mention sealing as an European interest in the area. In their pursuit of these natural resources the white settlers either directly or indirectly interfered with the traditional sources of sustenance and clothing of the Beothuk, who were forced to move towards the less abundant center of the island. In opposition to many other instances of early White-Indian interaction, farming and Christian missionary activity was not pursued in Beothuk territory.


Upton, Leslie F. S. “The Extermination of the Beothucks [sic] of Newfoundland.” Sweet Promises: A Reader on Indian-White Relations in Canada. Ed. James R. Miller. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. 68-89. Print.

Marshall, Ingeborg. The Beothuk of Newfoundland: A Vanished People. St. John’s: Breakwater, 1989. Print.


5) How did the North American people respond to Europeans?

The Beothuk experience with European fishermen was quite different from the experience of other Algonquin peoples. Many Algonquin peoples embraced the trading relationship they formed with the Europeans, but the Beothuk withdrew into the interior of the island when fishermen began to create seasonal fishing structures on the shores of Newfoundland. When the fishermen left for the winter the Beothuk emerged and scavenged for goods left behind by the Europeans, most of which were reformed to better serve the Beothuk needs. The Beothuk had minimal contact with the Europeans until the late 18th century when governors of Newfoundland had British marines explore the hinterland of the Exploits River in hopes of learning more about the Beothuk. It is near the Exploits River that the Boyd’s Cove site as found, which provides historians with the most detailed information regarding the material culture of the Beothuk.


Buckner, Phillip A., and John G. Reid. “The Sixteenth Century: Aboriginal Peoples and European Contact.” In The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History, 27-38. Toronto: University of Toronto Press , 1994.


6) How did Europeans respond to the North Americans they encountered?

Missing common interests in trade and “misunderstanding”between European settlers and the Beothuk prompted a European image of Beothuks that depicted the natives as “bad”, “cruel” and “inhuman” as well as useless for economic purposes. Consequently, the European response to the Beothuk members is primarily characterized by negligence of Beothuk rights and presence as well as violence. After failed “attempts to establish trade” European settlers claimed territory that was economically used by the Beothuk before as theirs in order to pursue their economic interests: “[…] fishermen needed shore space for their drying racks […]; often they erected them on sites favoured by the Natives for summer fishing.” In order to ‘tame’ the natives religious conversion was considered a serious option. However, this means was not implemented by the Europeans. Instead Europeans hunted down the Beothuk, “[o]nce settlement began.” As a result of “open hunting season[s] against the Beothuk” during this first stage of the encounter between Europeans and the Beothuk this group of indigenous people disappeared from the map of North America.


Dickason, Olive Patricia, Canada’s First Nations: A History of Founding Peoples from Earliest Times (Toronto: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992). Print.

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