Shawnadithit was a slave to European settlers in Newfoundland. She died in 1829 and was the last known member of a First Nation in Canada that was extinguished from the world: The Beothuk.
I want you to let that sink in. A group of humans is gone forever.
These last four weeks have been both encouraging and sad all at the same time. I’ve watched people rally together to protest injustice and inequality that has been systemic and deeply felt by the BICOP community in America & Canada for centuries. I’ve had conversations with caucasian folks that are troubled by the realities people of color face, they want to help, but are at a loss as to what to do about it all. To the point where they are paralyzed in even saying anything on the subject of racism. The conversations have been uplifting, rich and healing in a way.
On the other hand, I’ve been hurting these past four weeks for my Indigenous friends. In no way are they trying to take away from this very important moment in history, so they ally, they raise their voices in support of the black community and they choose to put their pain aside for the time being. However, their wounds are still open. I’ve heard the recognition of their fight in speeches & posts, and I’m thankful that the black community can make this type of connection in the midst of their own pain. It shows a level of solidarity that is needed in times like these.
The Indigenous plight here in Canada is complicated & nuanced. The layers are so deep that it at times feels like a bottomless pit of hopelessness. It must be even more difficult when the people of your own country can clearly see and articulate the problems across the fence with our southern neighbors but have a difficult time honestly acknowledging the racial issues in their own backyard. Let’s be clear, we all know they are there, we just don’t like looking at them.
I’ve been struck by the blatant inconsistency from Canadian political, church, and community leaders who are quick to jump onto the Black Lives Matter (Whether in support of the organization or in affirming the slogan), but neglect to deal with the deep-seated racism towards the Indigenous community that is rooted in the very psyche of Canadian society.
In my circle of church leaders, I’ve watched many make impassioned statements about racism and the need for reform. I’ve heard them blatantly eisegete scripture to make the case for the necessity of violence & riots. I’ve heard them educate others on African American history, all the while not having a clue about the history of their own homeland.
The Beothuk were a First Nation that inhabited Newfoundland. Like all colonial relationships, settlers of “The Rock” claimed a home that was not theirs and were annoyed by the fact that these first people were “cruel, unreliable and treacherous” towards them. It was more than a sense of annoyance actually, settlers hated them so much that the Beothuk were “shot like animals,” “mercilessly hunted” and were “regarded as part of the natural game of the country, which white men had the same right to hunt as they had to hunt bears or caribou.” In 1829, a kidnapped & enslaved woman named Shawnadithit was the last Beothuk to ever walk on the planet. She was the end of her nation’s story.
This. Is. Canada.
The Beothuk genocide is part of OUR collective history. And yet the majority of Canadians know more about the African American story than they do about the story of their Indigenous neighbors.
Please hear me, I’m not saying that what you’re doing is bad. It’s good, it’s noble, it necessary. But don’t be so quick to virtue signal, claim to be “woke” or look for splinters in the eyes of others before you’re ready to work hard at taking the plank out of our communal Canadian eye first.
In America and in Canada, The black community’s house is on fire and we have collective responsibility to help put it out. But just down the street, there is another home that is also in flames, and sadly, it’s been on fire just as long.
June is national Indigenous history month. The best thing you and I can do is educate ourselves on the history of Canada’s First Nations. Sit down with an indigenous friend for coffee and ask them how they are doing with the current situation that is going on in our world. Ask them what their experience has been as an Indigenous person in Canada.
You see, learning and listening is the only way forward. We cannot go back and rewrite history, but maybe… just maybe… by learning from one another, we have the chance to write a different future.
*The quotes in this blog were taken from Richard Budgel’s work: “The Beothuk & The Newfoundland Mind.”
Another Article about the Beothuk in Maclean’s by Harold Horwood: “The People Who Were Murdered For Fun.”
Also, here is a list of 308 missing & murdered Indigenous women. Read their stories.