The Beothuk story: European and First Nations narratives of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland

Aylward, Christopher P. (2014) The Beothuk story: European and First Nations narratives of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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European narrative history of Newfoundland’s Beothuk people has been characterized by a series of related assumptions about their mysterious origins, their isolation on the island of Newfoundland, their xenophobia and rejection of outside influences, and their ultimate extinction with the death of Shanawdithit in 1829. An analysis of the Beothuk grand narrative through a framework of narratology and the philosophy of history illustrates the extent to which our understanding of Beothuk history has been shaped by narrative, with the limitations of its predetermined, linear, cause and effect structure, the pervasiveness of editing, selection, translation, and revision in its sources. Many of the themes in Howley’s seminal The Beothucks or Red Indians: the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland (1915) are challenged by Speck’s Beothuc and Micmac: Indian Notes and Monographs (1922), which presents a Native alternative to Howley’s primarily Eurocentric narratorial perspective. The schism between Howley and Speck plays out in much of the subsequent archaeological narrative, which emphasizes Beothuk agency through research into their food storage, iron technology, paleoethnobotany, and interaction with both Europeans and other Native groups. One such group is Newfoundland’s Mi’kmaq people, whose contemporary oral history reveals a counter narrative challenging many accepted historical assumptions about their place in Newfoundland and their role in the ostensible disappearance of the Beothuk. Shaped by their own bias, oral history accounts by the Innu of Labrador and people from the Great Northern Peninsula with a family history of Beothuk ancestry provide the Beothuk grand narrative with a valuable alternative perspective. The extensive oral history research for this dissertation was carried out in response to the growing need, expressed by scholars of Native history and archaeology alike, for increased polyvocality in the analysis of the past. Considered as fragments within the Beothuk narrative, French accounts from the early 17th century to the 20th century provide new insight into some fundamental assumptions concerning the Beothuk, particularly their interaction with Europeans and other Native peoples. More recent writing in areas such as osteoarchaeology, craniology, and DNA analysis reveals how entrenched conventions of historical narrative continue to shape our understanding of the Beothuk, even in the face of challenging and sometimes contradictory research findings.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 8099
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 313-386).
Keywords: Beothuk, Historical Narrative Theory, Narratology, History, Archaeology, Native Oral History, Indigenous Research, Story, Narrative, Interdisciplinary
Department(s): UNSPECIFIED
Date: October 2014
Date Type: Submission

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