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Letter: Indigenous ancestry is to be expected in N.L.


To the American woman who claims Beothuk ancestry, I would say so might we all. Intermarriage between settlers and aboriginals was common everywhere in the world throughout history. It was so common in early New England that colonial governments passed laws trying to stop it. Later, at the beginning of the American Republic, under enlightened leaders like Thomas Jefferson, it was actively encouraged with land grants.

Unlike other European settlements in North America, Newfoundland was not a colony in the early days. It had no colonial government. It was an anarchic and cosmopolitan society for most of the year. The transient Fishing Admirals simply didn’t care about intermarriage and didn’t have the authority to stop it even if they had. Later naval authorities only exercised some measure of legal control when they were here in the summer, but they had no real interest in the matter either.

Unlike European settlers on the mainland, early Newfoundlanders moved into the woods to live in the winter. Intermarriage with aboriginals would have happened as it happened everywhere else and, given the lack of colonial administration, combined with the winterhousing culture, it probably happened here more often than elsewhere.

Newfoundlanders of nominal European descent with ancestry going back 250 years and more, likely have a scattered Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Labrador Innu or Inuit somewhere among the family tuckamore. It would be surprising if they didn’t. And there are probably ancestors from further afield as well: Black Africans and Barbary corsairs, who we know were here in the early days, hence Turk’s Gut, Turk’s Cove and Turk’s Water. It was not for nothing that Newfoundlanders were referred to as “Copper Coloureds” by the British and Irish in the early-mid-19th century. The Newfoundlanders called themselves “natives.”

We are arguably among the most “racially” mixed of any people in North America. It’s how we survived successive generations without much immigration.

David Benson 
Tors Cove

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