Secret Life of Canada

Was Shanawdithit really the last Beothuk?

Throughout the years, the Beothuk people have been written about as an “extinct” nation, whose numbers were few at the time of European contact to Newfoundland. By 1828, they were all gone except one woman named Shanawdithit. She is now known as "the last Beothuk" but was she?

One of the longstanding myths Canada loves to tell itself is Indigenous people are no longer here

A still from SHANAWDITHIT, an opera on Shanawdithit's life and legacy. The libretto is by Yvette Nolan, and composed by Dean Burry. (Dahlia Katz)

For the final episode of the season, the Secret Life of Canada looks into the history of  the Beothuk, Indigenous people of the Island of Newfoundland. Often written about as extinct, many accounts state that only one member of the Beothuk survived into the late 1820s and her name was Shanawdithit. But, is this true or does this fit into Canadian mythology, that Indigenous people are no longer here?

A map drawn from memory in 1829 by Shanawdithit that depicts the kidnapping of her aunt Demasduit by British settlers. The annotations were written by William Cormack refer to Demasduit as “Mary March.” Approximately a dozen of Shanawdithit’s drawings have survived and include maps, illustrations of housing and tools and sketches of people. Graphite and ink on paper. (Courtesy of The Rooms)

Falen and Leah look into terrible 90s movies like Last of the Mohicans to try and find out why the premise of a single Indigenous survivor has become romanticised in popular culture. Then, they talk to Algonquin/Irish writer (and the podcast's story editor) Yvette Nolan about what she learned when writing an opera about Shanawdithit's life and legacy.

The ensemble of the opera Shanawdithit in 2019. (Dahlia Katz)

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