Beothuk on the Eve of Extinction

               In the article, “The Beothuk On The Eve of Their Extinction” written by Donald H. Holly Jr, the reader is introduced to the argument that, unlike popular belief, “The Beothuk {people} were active players in the unfolding of their history”.[1] This theory contradicts the conclusions of many historians who believe that the Beothuk were a “doomed people.”[2] By using a collection of primary and secondary sources, Holly is effective in not only supporting his case but also making it factual and believable.

In the beginning of the article, the reader is presented to the authors argument, a brief history of what is known about the Beothuk people and the setting to which the Beothuk people lived. These mini sections are an effective way of breaking down the author’s point of view while educating the reader about the Beothuk. For example, in the Settings section the reader learns that “The early historical record of the Beothuk is unfortunately just as murky and complex as the archaeological one”[3] because of the fact that the “Beothuk and their ancestors shared the island with other groups”. [4] This is important as it supports Holly’s theory that past findings about the Beothuk may not be completely accurate and as a result there is room for new hypothesises.

Within the article Holly also addresses the concept that the Beothuk were a “doomed people”[5] that did not actively fight against the Europeans. Through the mini sections, Identity, Avoidance and Resistance, the author shows how the Beothuk did in fact fight back. He states that while the Beothuk did retreat to the inland of the island, once thought of as a symbol of the Beothuk running scared, they did so in an effort to preserve their language and culture while actively fighting against the Europeans through “well documented incidents of violence.”[6] How can one argue there was no fight from the Beothuk when the Europeans have recorded the incidents of murder, property destruction and stealing?

By using first-rate primary and secondary sources, Holly was able to establish his argument as credible. The most noteworthy primary source is from Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country written in 1836 by John McGregor, “ Sketches of Savage life: Shaa-naan-dithit”. Upon researching this article I discovered that the information in the article came from “William Eppes Cormack, a Newfoundland entrepreneur and philanthropist, who had walked across the island in search of the Beothuk, founded the Boeothick Institution, and had taken Shanawdithit into his house after she was transferred to St. John’s, in September 1828.”[7] This is an important document because the person who wrote it had the interest of the Beothuk people and was not clouded with a European bias.

In the end through exploring and disproving other hypotheses, Holly was able to effectively prove his theory about the Beothuk people. By breaking down his argument into sections the reader was able to draw conclusions that would support Holly’s argument. The use of many different primary and secondary sources allows the reader to have confidence in the facts being presented creating an argument that is well thought out and researched.

Collapse of The Beothuk World

                  In the article, “The Collapse Of The Boethuk World” by Ralph Pastore, the author puts forth the argument that the Beothuk people became extinct because they starved to death. The author also argues that while the arrival of the Europeans created an environment for a faster decline, the extinction of the Beothuk was inevitable. This theory is supported by speculation and archaeological findings as well as primary and secondary sources written from the European point of view. As a result, the argument does not seem completely credible and appears to come across as bias, failing to acknowledge the Beothuk perspective.

While the main argument of this article is clear, the execution of the article leaves the reader questioning the facts that are presented. In the beginning of the article the reader learns that in the past, Newfoundland was rich with resources both on land and in the water. There is a list of over a dozen different types of animals that inhabited the island on and off shore.[8] Yet it is assumed that the Beothuk failed to specialize in hunting any of these animals resulting in an inability to sustain their lives. This assumption was based on the findings along the shoreline during an archaeological dig, which failed to authenticate their findings as being from the Beothuk. How can an assumption be made about the eating habits of the Beothuk when the bones and tools could have been from other tribes in the area?

It is also suggested that even without the invasion of the Europeans, the Beothuk people were in a position where they may starve to death.[9] The author states that the Beothuk lacked the tools necessary to be good hunters and yet further into the article the author contradicts this statement claiming that the Beothuk often raided “seasonally-abandoned fishing premises”[10] where they collected “treasure troves of metal objects, in particular nails”[11]. It is hard to assume the Beothuk would not have the ability to turn the metal treasures into hunting weapons.

In this article, most of the theories about the Beothuk rest on the data collected by archaeologists. By the authors own admission there is no written records about the Beothuk as all theories from this article came from published and unpublished data.[12]One of the main issues with this data is the fact the archaeologists collected the information long after the Beothuk had disappeared from the landscape. With no credible primary sources how can one conclude the path the extinction that the Beothuk took?

While there are pages and pages of information given in this article, it is hard to decipher what is completely accurate. The argument presented is clear, the Beothuk became extinct due to a lack of food resources, something that would have occurred with or without the European influence. Be that was it may, the lack of solid primary sources coupled with the authors own admission that the information being provided is murky at best, the argument falls short

[1] Donald H Holly. “The Beothuk on The Eve Of Their Extinction”.Arctic Anthropology. Vol 37. No 1 (2000) : 80

[2] Holly.“The Beothuk on The Eve Of Their Extinction”.Arctic Anthropology. Vol 37. No 1 (2000) : 79

[3] Ibid. 80

[4] Ibid. 80

[5] Ibid.79

[6] Ibid. 87

[7] John McGregor.”Sketches of a Savage Life”. Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country. Vol 8 (March 1836) :316

[8] Ralph Pastore.”The Collapse of the Beothuk World”. Acadiensis:Journal of the History of The Atlantic Region. Vol 19, 1,(Fall/Automne 1989):52-53

[9] Ralph Pastore.”The Collapse of the Beothuk World”. Acadiensis:Journal of the History of The Atlantic Region. Vol 19, 1,(Fall/Automne 1989):52-53


[10] Ibid.57

[11] Ibid. 57

[12] Ibid. 58