The name of the island gives away the perspective. Europeans who landed here believed they had found a new land. Much is made of Viking settlements on the northern peninsula perhaps as long as 1000 years ago. Then 500+ years later Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English fishermen fished the Grand Banks off shore and came on land to settle. English and Irish became the first Europeans to settle permanently on the island and their culture came to dominate as it remained a British colony until 1949. Today, Newfoundland has the most homogenous population of any province in Canada.

We noted the lack of acknowledgement of indigenous peoples at national parks and monuments and inquired about it. It seemed so strange coming from the west where there is increasing awareness and acknowledgement of our indigenous forbears. No one could give us an answer other than reference to Mi ‘kmaq people in the Corner Brook area who came from Nova Scotia. Labrador has Inuit peoples but the island of Newfoundland seemed bereft of indigenous peoples. Was it actually TERRA NULIUS (an empty land)? Or was the genocide of indigenous people tragically effective here? Either seemed hard to believe. Surely there must be a story here.

And there is a fragment of one. It is a sad story. Finally, at the end of our journey in the St. John’s apartment we were staying I noted a book on the shelf entitled, The Last Beothuk. It was a novel telling the story of the last surviving indigenous person on the island almost 200 years ago. I did not have time to read the entire book but the epilogue pieced together the few details that remained about the Beothuk people who had lived on the rock for thousands of years. Some internet research gave me a bit more information about the culture and the last surviving members. Why do the hardy, humble, and hospitable English and Irish settlers of the last 300 years not know this story? Numerous national park guides we spoke to did not know it. The details are scarce and the stories few.

Human beings need memories in order to keep faith alive. It is spiritual tragedy when a story vanishes from memory without a written record or an oral tradition. The story of the Beothuk people seems forgotten and that is sad.

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