montagnais

Someone just commented on my Titanic diner with 2 words : “ White people”.

They were probably referencing how extravagante it looked and how the pictures were of “ white people.” or how we seemed to “celebrate” a tragedy.

actual facts:

- We had 2 POCs, 1 Italian refugee descendant ( The braided table cloth was actually handmade during the trip on boat to pass time.) and 3 Montagnais Métis. 

- Everything from that dinner was paid by ME. I organized it and wanted everyone who could make it to have a F- great time. ( most of whom couldn’t afford something like that because they were very low on income.) so in order to have a fantastic evening where a lot of people could experience something they probably never will again: I saved up my tax returns, I took on commissions, I managed my finances and paid for everything so that everyone could have a damn great time. I didn’t want anyone to be left out because they couldn’t afford it.

- Most of the clothings was found in Thrift stores/antiques shops at ridiculously low prices. The priciest stuff like the Silver cutlery and the dish plates were borrowed. We made several elderly ladies very happy by exchanging our passion for that time period and letting them help us out. They were darlings.

- We weren’t “ celebrating” the tragedy in the slightest ( I spend 3 hours talking about the tragedy , the casualties, some facts about the sinking and also the awesomeness that is Molly Brown and how she was a badass. ) A lot of people there knew next to nothing about the tragedy and they told me after the party that I taught them much and they were very interested in going out to see more about it ( ex: The expositions , museum and documentaries.) 

- We had a fantastic evening and I ain’t about to have that shamed by some random dude/dudette on the net. 

The Death of the Beothuk

How a tribe of Newfoundland Indians suffered genocide at the hands of the Europeans

The aboriginal occupation of Newfoundland and Labrador goes back as far as 6,000 years, with at least four distinct groups having inhabited the region over the centuries.  First came the Maritime Archaic people, followed by the Arctic Small Tool Tradition, the Thule Eskimos and finally, The Beothuk, who became extinct soon after the arrival of Europeans who came to fish and eventually settle in Newfoundland.


The word Beothuk simply means “people.”  From the precious little that survives of it, their language appears to have been a form of Central Algonquin; the Beothuk were probably distant cousins of the Montagnais of Quebec and Labrador.  First contact may have occurred in 985 A.D. when the Norse were exploring the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Vikings reported trading for furs with an indigenous people they had encountered and later battled with.


The first well-documented contact in the 15th Century indicates that at least in the beginning, relations were friendly.  Because of the tradition of painting their bodies red with ochre they came to be known to the Europeans as Red Indians, or red skins, a term that over time spread throughout North America.


Because the Beothuk were wiped out before any significant cultural exchange with Europeans, very little is known about them.  Only a handful of artifacts exist from this culture, most of which were taken from graves.  The first centuries of contact were devastating for all North American natives.  Between 1600 and 1700, an estimated 90% of the populations of first nations who made contact were lost, mostly to disease.  While is believed that some 12 million people lived in North America when Columbus arrived, the number was rapidly reduced as settlement spread.  Although Mic Mac (Mi’kmaq) and Maliseet tribes carried on extensive trade with Europeans from very early on, the Beothuk were never able to secure such a relationship.


Another source of animosity arose from the tendency of the Beothuk to scavenge metal from the fishing camps once the seasons had ended.  Every summer hundreds of ships came to fish Newfoundland’s waters, and when they left in the fall the Beothuk would come to see what they could take from the camps.  They had learned to forge metal and employed this knowledge in the making of weapons.  Sometimes boats were burned to obtain the nails in them.
It made little difference to the Europeans that they had taken over the traditional summering grounds of the Beothuk, forcing them inland and away from the birds, fish and seals that constituted their summer food supplies.  Even the salmon were netted before they could get far enough upstream to reach the Indians.  This put them in a position where they were forced to steal to survive, but when they did, they were often hunted down like animals and shot on sight.


In February of 1790 a party went looking for Beothuk on a retaliatory raid.  It was their intention to kill all they met though they would give them “fair play,” and not fire if the enemy fled.  At one village where the enemy did flee, they burned all the canoes and three of the four wigwams.  One hundred deer skins were stolen and 500 arrows thrown into a brook.  The entire winter’s supply of cariboo – 40 or 50 twenty five square foot packages of pressed, frozen meat – was destroyed.  At that time of the year, when the people were most vulnerable, it would have been more humane to shoot them.  This type of cruel, inhuman retribution often resulted in entire villages perishing.


In 1818 an open boat, loaded and ready for market, was stolen from one John Peyton.  Since it was a considerable loss, he obtained permission from the governor to seek his stolen property and to capture live one of the Beothuk.  Upon entering a small encampment Peyton’s men captured a woman who was unable to flee because she had recently given birth.  When her husband tried to rescue her, despite being greatly outnumbered, he was killed.  She was taken to St. John’s while her newborn was left behind and reportedly died two days later.  When she contracted consumption, she was eventually ordered to be returned to her people, but she died on the way and her body was left at the abandoned camp.  This woman, Demasduwit, known to the English as Mary March, was one of the last of the Beothuk people.


Another Beothuk woman, Shanawdithit, was captured in 1823 and survived until 1829 despite having contracted consumption.  From this woman came nearly all the information we possess regarding her people.  William Cormack, president of the Beothuk Institute, learned some of her language, as she learned some English, and he made notes on Beothuk history, mythology and vocabulary.  Shanawdithit drew maps and pictures for Cormack, and it was said that she never spoke of her people without tears.


We know that the Beothuk were a unique culture and that the land and sea provided amply for their needs.  They were seasonal migrants who spent the summers taking advantage of the bounty of the sea and who moved inland in the winter where they survived largely on cariboo.  Although little is known about them, their artistic style was eloquent and distinct from other tribes, and some intriguing bits of information have been preserved.  In 1820 an English expedition up the Exploits River discovered a tree, 40 feet in height, which had been completely stripped of branches and bark, with only a small tuft remaining on top.  From top to bottom it was painted in alternating circles of red and white.  While the function of this tree is a mystery, it is obvious from examples such as this that the Beothuk had a sophisticated culture and religion.


In 1827 William Cormack made his second trip across Newfoundland in hopes of finding Beothuk for the purpose of learning more about them.  Upon reaching Red Indian Lake he discovered one of the great tragedies of North American first nations subjugation. Only scant signs of former habitation remained and all the birch trees had been ringed to use the inner layer for food.  When the captured Shanawdithit died in 1829 the Beothuk race died with her.  Later in the century hundreds of thousands of other native North Americans would suffer similar fates in the great Indian wars of the American west.  In 1862 Colonel Chivington of the US army gave a public speech in Denver, Colorado advocating the killing and scalping of all Indians, declaring that, “Nits make lice.”  And in a massacre of 105 Cheyenne women and children he made good his word, scalping and mutilating even babies.


Although we are aware of atrocities perpetrated against first nations in the United States, many Canadians may be shocked to learn about what happened in Newfoundland and even in the Maritime Provinces.  We are not taught in school that an entire race of non-aggressive people from eastern Canada was destroyed by genocide.  As is the case with slavery in Canada, eastern Canada in particular, history seems to have chosen to ignore the terrible price exacted upon aboriginal Canadians in the conquest of the New World.


Written in the early 1990s