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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2019

Chapter 5 - The Beothuk Nation (1500–1830)


The fate of the Beothuk Nation provides a paradigm case of the devastation of a people as the result of colonization of their lands and resources by a settler population heavily engaged in the establishment and success of commercial markets. The story begins in apparent amity between small numbers of newcomers and the Indigenous residents of Newfoundland. It proceeds through mounting tensions as the former increased in number, moving from a subsistence fishing, hunting, and trapping economy to one driven by commercial market forces, where the settlers increasingly compromised and eroded Beothuk conditions of life. Settlers forced them to abandon traditional food sources, subjected them to repeated and intensifying violence, and confined them to smaller, less desirable portions of their homelands. Inadequate shelter, lack of proper nutrition, starvation, and mounting physical and mental stresses combined to weaken their resistance to disease and ability to reproduce. Those in Great Britain who were ultimately responsible for colonial policy and settler oversight knew of these developments but failed to act until it was too late. The story ends, it would seem, in the demise of the Beothuk as a distinct cultural and physical entity. But is it also a story of genocide?