Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

At Last

Minimum Wage

The idea of raising the minimum wage seems to me plainly a bad idea; like thinking you can catch your own tail, or pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Am I missing something?

If anyone is working for below the proposed minimum wage now, that means he or she is relatively content to provide that service for that money; and the employer is relatively content to pay that money for that service. Raise the wage, and you upset this equation. The worker is probably going to be happier, should the job continue, but it is entirely possible that the employer is not prepared to value that service that highly. Result: someone who had a job before, and was relatively content, now has no job. Someone who was getting some service before, and was relatively content, now is no longer getting that service. Two people are less happy, perhaps desperately so.

People who advocate raising the minimum wage sometimes say it will not hurt the economy, because, after all, it will put more money in the pockets of workers. They will spend it, and the whole economy will benefit. Even if there are some jobs lost, this will make up for it.

I can't see how that math adds up. You cannot create new money out of thin air. Central banks have been known to try it. But if there is no growth in real value of the products and services generated, printing more currency only causes inflation in prices. The paper, in itself, is worthless. The denomination is just a number.

THe difference ain't going to come out of "profits." The free market makes pretty sure profits are at a minimum already. Reduce the profits in one business, or industry, and investment just flows to an area in which profits are higher. Business closes, or is not begun.

So if you up wages for some people, that money comes out of somebody else's pocket. If it adds to the money these workers are able to spend, it also, to an identical amount, reduces the amount of money the next guy has to spend. It cannot boost the economy as a whole. Even if it produces no job losses, raising the minimum wage raises the condition of some producers on the backs of some consumers. This is most likely to be poorer consumers, who are most sensitive to price rises.

Cutting out jobs at the lowest rung also throws more people on to public assistance; people who might prefer to work and to support themselves. Making their condition worse, while costing us all more. The new bottom rung of the ladder is above their reach. Moreover, there is a reason why we commonly use that image of a ladder, with rungs. If you never get on the first rung, all the higher rungs are also beyond your reach. The poor can never get ahead. Let them get their foot on at the bottom, and they may.

And again, no minimum wage law can be enforced beyond Canada's borders. Make sure that no Canadian's labour can be got for less than, say, ten dollars an hour, when a Chinese worker can be got for one dollar an hour, and where are all the new factories going to be built? Where are all the services going to be sourced? Instead of improving the lot of the Canadian poor, you are shovelling money off to China.

Granted, you are probably thereby improving the lot of the Chinese poor. And thqat is a good thing. But racial discrimination is not: Canadians ought to be given an equal chance at those jobs, if they want them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Parade Passes

The parade passes on to another town.
I hum the bass line, alone among casual shoppers.
Lately locked in beauty,
We are now, again, our sole selves.

The parade passes on to another town.
This is no time to mourn.
This is time to gather random candies
Forgotten about the street.
This is time to plan
For another, bigger, parade,
Passing through the city gates
Next year, in Jerusalem.

-- Stephen K. Roney

Fat Capitalists and the Evils of Profit

The guys who actually run big businesses are generally bureaucrats. They love lots of government and regulation. Keeps out competition.

Profits are always higher in the public sector.

The evil p- word is commonly used as a justification for having government run something: it should be cheaper, because we eliminate provate profits.

This is touchingly naive. A free market, as exists in the private sector, serves to keep profits low. Anyone else prepared to provide the same product or service at a lower profit puts you out of business. Greed is self-defeating.

It is in the public sector that profits can grow unchecked. Bureaucrats do not run for re-election. They face no competition. So long as they do not publicly embarrass their political masters, and perhaps even then, they can more or less write their own ticket. They can take out their profits as pay, or as pension. They negotiate these with other public servants, who benefit just as they do. According to a recent story in the Daily Caller, federal employees make, when both pay and pensions are considered, not much less than double what private sector workers make.

And, on top of these higher profits, there is, unlike the private sector, no incentive to be efficient. Indeed, work too hard, and you are only likely to alienate your colleagues. With whom you are probably stuck for life. Moreover, becoming more efficient runs a natural risk of making your job, or those of your co-workers, redundant. All the incentives, in other words, work towards greater costs and inefficiency.

Now, the next argument no doubt is that at least, in the public sector, the profits are not going to fat capitalists, guys who are already rich and do not need the money.

Wrong again. Most equity in publicly-traded corporations is held by pension funds. Much of what is not held by pension funds is still somebody's nest egg for their children's education or for their retirement. They might not be the poorest of the poor, but you are taking profits away from relatively ordinary retirees, folks who might be struggling to keep food on the table, and not rotund middle-aged men in pinstripes, spats, and stovepipe hats. Those exist only in Soviet propaganda and in aging, yellowed cartoons.

Civil servants, on the other hand, the guys you are handing it to instead, are probably still able-bodied, able if they wish to hold down an honest job, and sometimes even quite rich. Try buying house in the high-rent districts of Washington, DC. Richest suburbs in America.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gay Gene

Old cigarette ad rendered confusing by new euphemism.

A correspondent recently wrote, in response to a column by my columnist friend Xerxes, “I find it amazing that in this age people do not understand that our sexuality is not chosen, but part of the genetic package we are born with.“

Here is another of those things that “everybody knows” that are not true. Generally deliberately planted for political purposes.

In the 1980s and 90s a notion reached its peak that human behaviour could be explained genetically. I guess the “gay gene” was the leading factor, but alcoholism, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and all sorts of other things were also posited to be genetic. Among other advantages, this let a lot of people off the moral hook: either for indulging vices, or for driving others mad. So it was an easy sell to the popular culture.

It was always ever a speculation, mostly wishful thinking, but it was seized upon and presented as an established scientific fact. Periodically, The papers even announced that a “gene for schizophrenia” or “gay gene” had been discovered. But none of those studies could ever be reproduced. Unfortunately, the first claimed discovery was news. The later retraction was not. Many people have been left with the impression that the science is settled.

As time marches on, with many researchers searching for these genes, and as our knowledge of the human genome grows exponentially, we still have not discovered any of these genes. It grows increasingly likely that they do not exist.

Gee—people are not robots. Who knew?

The “gay gene” although always the most popular of these hypotheses, was also always the least probable. For a “gay gene” to exist, Darwin would have to have been nuts. No small issue. If natural selection is real, any gay gene would have died out in a single generation. It would prevent reproduction. Bad evolutionary strategy.

The “gay gene” became popular dogma largely because many believed it gave “homosexuals” an inalienable right to homosexual sex. One was born gay like one was born black. So objecting to gay sex was simply prejudice.

Given that only perhaps 3% of the population has any interest in having gay sex, why did this become such a popular issue?

Because it meant that conventional moral codes, notably Catholicism, were guilty of prejudice. So, presumably, they could be ignored, discarded, and everyone could do what they want. Most notably, I suspect, abort unwanted children, allowing unrestricted sex without responsibility.

At the expense of accepting that you were an animal, or a robot. For some, a small price to pay.

So if it is not genetic and inborn, how does one become gay? After all, the great majority of us have no temptation at all in that direction. Quite the reverse.

If one is not “born that way, the obvious alternative is nurture. Opening up a disturbing possibility. What if a desire for gay sex is triggered by a nearly gay experience? That seems entirely plausible. How many of us, after all, spend the rest of our lives until marriage looking for someone who reminds us of our first girlfriend? After all, how are we to explain other sexual fetishes? Can you be born with a sexual attraction to shoes, or to uniforms?

In other words, people may become gay because they were “groomed,” seduced into a homosexual experience at a young age.

This seems to have been the conventional wisdom, until recently, about homosexuality and how it came about until quite recently. In ancient Greece, an older man would recruit a young male lover. In English public schools, an upperclassman would recruit a younger “fag.”

So what if our ancestors were right?

Homosexuality, if there is a choice, is both socially and individually desirable. Most notably because it does not lead to children. Also because it seems to be an efficient way to spread disease. But it also cannot be a pleasant life to be sexually attracted to people 97% of whom are going to reject your advances out of hand.

So what is the obvious solution? The temptation must be very great to seek out a younger person, someone quite inexperienced, barely aware of what sex is about, and in any case smaller, weaker, and socially less powerful than yourself, and lure then into an encounter.

And now one begins to see why homosexuality has traditionally been prohibited in almost all cultures.

The issue is not really sex between two consenting adults. Even where the prohibition still applies, in countries like Saudi Arabia, that seems to be nobody's business. It is the automatic probability of what we now call “hebephilia.”

The modern concept of taking homosexuality out of the closet, and recognizing gay marriage, may be a viable and more humane alternative to banning it: make it easier for gays to find partners, and there will be less incentive to hunt among the young.

But let's see things as they are.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Keep Calm and Carry On

There is no reason to be alarmed at the drop in the Pound, or in the markets, following the Brexit vote. Business never likes, and always reacts this way to, any sudden change, even if it is in the long run good for business. Most investors, as investors, want a reliable steady return on their investment, with a minimum of risk. They would rather avoid anything that might upset their established business model.

I think there is also little to worry about the EU not coming to terms with Britain on a common market. It is, of course, in everybody's best interest. Britain remains the world's fifth-largest economy. Great market for anyone. Some say the EU will want to play tough, so as not to encourage any other members to follow Britain's example. But there is Ireland. The Irish economy, I warrant, is so tied up with Britain's that, if the EU raised tariff barriers with the UK, it would probably force Ireland to leave as well. Making the precedent worse. Denmark might want to follow.

At the same time, leaving the EU frees the UK again to make its own trade deals elsewhere, forbidden under EU rules. We might see a reestablishment of the old Imperial preferences, if not a common market, among some or all the members of the Commonwealth. When they joined the EU, Britain had to discard some of this. It might be good for British morale, as well as business, if the old Imperial ties were strengthened. It would remind her of who she is. The old prestige is still there, in India, in Arabia, in Africa, in Canada, no doubt elsewhere, and it is a shame it is being squandered now. In any case, here or elsewhere, Britain can now make the deals that are best for Britain, instead of requiring a consensus with all the other members of the EU.

It is hard to believe that will not, in the long run, be better for Britain economically.

I would especially like to see Britain welcomed into NAFTA. Last I checked, it was a bigger free market than the EU, there are natural ties of language and common law that make doing business easier, and it does not demand the same sacrifices of sovereignty.

As recently as The Prisoner TV series,mid-1960s, the map on the wall showed Commonwealth countries in pink. And as recently as The Prisoner, that classic British series actually had it's world debut on CTV.

Hands across the sea, eh, wot?



The World According to Mr. Jones

Van Jones

Van Jones, former advisor to President Obama, recently commented on CNN about Trump's suggestion that, repugnant as he finds it, we may need to start racial profiling to fight jihadism. The headline for the story is “White Christian men commit most mass shootings, so why not racially profile them?”

Paybakc time: how are those white Christians who support Trump going to like it if they are the ones being profiled?

“I just think it’s really interesting that we’re talking about racially profiling in the context of mass shootings,” Jones said. “The vast majority of the people who are doing the mass shootings in America aren’t Muslims at all.”

“Young white men…” CNN host Brooke Baldwin interjected.

Everybody knows that, right? Jones didn't even have to say, it, only drop the hint, and the point was made for him by the helpful interviewer. Most mass shootings are done by “whites.”

Only problem is, it's not true. I just checked the stats online. Turns out 44% of mass shooters are “white.” Their proportion of the US population is over 76%.

If you're talking racial profiling, the average white individual is, based on that characteristic alone, about half as likely to commit the crime as a non-white. It is still non-whites you would want to target.

My numbers here are simply the first figure for each that came up in a Google search: first, ethnicity of mass shooters, then the ethnic proportions of the US population. May not be perfect as statictical analysis, but the randomness of the method makes it unlikely they are skewed to a particar desired political outcome.

Like so many facts that “everyone knows,” this myth of the white mass shooter was probably originally a deliberate lie planted for political advantage. There are so many of them: the claim that one in five college co-eds gets sexually harassed, that women make 76 cents on the dollar compared to men, that men used to be allowed to beat their wives so long as the rod used was no thicker than a thumb, the smallpox blankets, the Beothuk genocide, and so on and on. And yes, I seems it is the left that is generally responsible for these lies. As Lenin used to say, the end justifies the means. And few ever check the claims, because it becomes one of those things that, as Ward Churchill would say, “everyone knows.”

Jones makes even wilder claims. He goes on, “If a Christian shoots somebody, we don’t say a Christian shot them. But if a Muslim shoots somebody, we say a Muslim shot them. I think that’s starting to muddy the waters.”

That might work, if there were records of any mass murderers spraying the crowd with bullets while crying out “Jesus loves you.” Perhaps as familiar, in it's way, as “Allahu Akbar,” but not really in the same context. Soomehow, it just doesn't seem to fit the occasion.

Have there been any mass murderers who could be clearly identified as Christian, much less having murdered for Christianity?

It goes without saying, surely, that anyone doing so could not, in fact, be a Christian in any real sense, because he was violating a basic tenet of Christianity in doing so. That is probably also true of Islam, but in the latter case it is less clear and has, historically, been far more debatable, including within Islam.

Possibly Jones could point to an incident or two in which someone shot an abortionist. But if this is where his claim comes from, there are several problems with this. First of all, these are not mass murders. They are individual killings. Take all individual killings into the mix, and you discover that killers in general are overwhelmingly likely to be black. Second, the killer's motive may in such a case have nothing in particular to do with Christianity. That must still be demonstrated. They might just as well be motivated by the US Declaration of Independence, which asserts a universal human right to life. If this is so, as the dEclaration of Independence says, by natural law, they are morally in the right, and if the law does not agree, that only means the government is not doing its job. If this is not so, one must accept at the same time the awkward conclusion that the US has no right to exist. Third, if you point to shootings of abortionists, you cannot then exclude abortionists themselves from your list of mass murderers. Heavily reweighting the tally, probably against your preferences, to the left.

Gets complicated.

Then Jones says, “You are seven times more likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist—a racist or an anti-government nut job--...than a Muslim.”

Quickly now, can you think of any mass shooters who were, in fact, politically right-wing? I can think of no shooters, but one bomber, Timothy McVeigh. That's one. I trust Jones, like myself, has not yet run out of fingers. Before Islamism came into vogue, though, the usual pretext for any sort of mass killing was Marxism. Remember the Symbionese Liberation Army? Remember the Weathermen? Remember Baader-Meinhoff? Remember the Red Guards? Remember the Black Panthers? Remember the FLQ? Remember the IRA? Remember the People's Army? Anti-government, sure, but since when has Marx been the prophet of the right-wing? Since when was being anti-government a distinctly rightist thing? When was mass killing ever a rightist thing in the US?

Jones also slyly seems to equate “right-wing”with “racist.” What is and is not “right-wing” is a slippery thing to determine objectively, but if we take “Republican” to represent, overall, the US right, and “Democrat” overall to be the party of the left, then the case is unequivocal. Racism is a left-wing thing, not right-wing. Certainly it is so today. Democratic politics is all about race; Republican politics tends to emphasise the individual.

Meaning, if Jones is otherwise right, that mass-shooters are mostly left-wing and naturally Democrats.

And, of course, there is another problem with his statement. Why can't a Muslim be either racist or anti-government? Sounds like a case of the common deeply racist, and so self-contradictory, notion that “only white people can be racists.”

Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Jones.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Parkdale is a Carnival Every Day

Parkdale is a carnival every day:
Sidewalks ajostle with innocent apostles wholly out of their caves,
Gnostic prophets with no ‘earers in the kingdom of this world,
Tragically bangled unknown starlets seeking ways and means,
Always on the verge of sinking into some profound and sinister reality-induced trance.

Parkdale is a carnival every day:
Edwardian buildings implying back stairways,
Bicycle repair shops run by immortal Algonkian medicine men
A sound mind in a sound body on a sound cycle--shopfront Zen.

Parkdale is a carnival every day:
Everywhere roustabout gents with pants slung low
And squeezable honkable scarlet noses,
Women with beehive hair, mascara, sans teeth,
And less lip than lipstick,
And all so colourfully flushed or Pierrot-pale.

Parkdale is a carnival every day:
The tumbling pigeons at the library fountain
Part for every circus placard in Mosaic waves:
Epileptics are Subject to Covert CIA Experimentation;
Prostitution is Destroying Our Proud Neighbourhood;
Drugs are Destroying Our Proud Neighbourhood;
Pigeons are Destroying Our Proud Neighbourhood;
Pride is Destroying Our Neighbourhood;
Our Neighbourhood is a Covert CIA Operation;
Curse God, See Parkdale, and Die.

Parkdale is a carnival every day:
At twilight, drowned men rise from the lake at Sunnyside,
Victims of defective chemical, biological, intellectual or ancestral roller coasters.
And men are still drowning,
At twilight, at midnight, and, more horribly, at dawn.

Parkdale is a carnival every day.
Today, a bright sun painted on the canvas sky,
I walk the streets, scorning a net, yet knowing,
At any time,
I may come chest to face with the human cannonball,
Or face to lip with the lady who breathes fire.

Or, watching the passing show,
Become part of the passing show--
Mr. Ingenuous Jones, the idiot scribbling rube who thinks he knows.
-- Stephen K. Roney

The Last of the Beothuks

“All gone widdun (asleep). Nance go widdun too, no more come Nance, run away, no more come.” - Shawandithit, “Nancy April,” last known Beothuk

You may think you know a little about the Beothuks, the aboriginal inhabitants of Newfoundland. There is a lot said and written about them. And you may be right. More likely, you are wrong.

For we know almost nothing about the Beothuks. Much of what is recorded is contradictory. It is mostly oral, at second or third hand, often originally from trappers and fisherfolk. Sailors' tales and urban legends. You know what they say about sailors' tales.

The perfect blank canvas on which to project the familiar noble savage, and a terrible genocide as a parable for the evils of civilization.

And so we must feature the Beothuks here. This, along with the smallpox blankets, is the other familiar genocide claim; the proof that the aboriginals were unjustly treated. The English settlers, we are told, hunted them for sport, to the point of extermination. When challenged, in the pages of the National Post, with the claim that there was no genocide against Indians in Canada, Stephen Maher writes, “Not genocide? Ask the Beothuks.” The Europeans “drove [the Beothuks] away from the coast, into the forest and barrens, where the ones who did not starve to death were hunted like animals” (Maher, National Post, June 11, 2015).

But in fact, the British and the Newfoundland government were not sure they existed.

When, in the first decade of the seventeenth century, a company formed in London with the far-fetched idea of planting a colony in Newfoundland, the charter noted "we being well assured that the same country adjoining to the aforesaid coastes, where our subjects use to fishe, remaineth so destitute and so desolate of inhabitants, that scarce any one salvage [savage] person hath in many years beene scene in the most parts thereof” (James Howley, The Beothuks or Red Indians: The Aboriginal Inhabitants of Newfoundland, Cambridge: 1915, p. 14. Howley took the trouble to collect in his one volume all written references to the Beothuks from the time of their actual existence, and living memory of it). In 1640, when an English expedition to Newfoundland loaded up with manufactures in hopes of trading with the Indians, they faced the public objection, “if there be a trade there must be somebody supposed with whom to trade, and there be noe natives, upon the island” (Sir David Kirke, quoted by Howley, p. 23).

As late as 1793, the matter was still in some dispute: “It has been doubted whether there are any Newfoundland Indians or not” (Commission of Enquiry into the Trade with Newfoundland, 1793, Howley, p. 54). After all, even if Indians have been very occasionally spotted, said Indians, being nomadic peoples, might just as well have come from the mainland, and be only visiting there. 

 In 1811, Lieutenant Buchan, following an expedition to Red Indian Lake in the mysterious interior, is able at last to assert, “it appears then that they are permanent inhabitants, and not occasional visitors” (Howley, p. 85). 

 Within twenty years, he was proven wrong. As of 1830, there were indeed no native Indians in Newfoundland. 

At least, there have been no confirmed sightings since.

Problem: how could the English have developed genocidal designs against the Beothuk, given that they were not sure they existed? You want to go out and exterminate unicorns? And, if the Beothuk population was so scant, why any drive, as is commonly claimed with the smallpox blankets, to be rid of them in order to take their land? 

Especially since the government policy for many years was to prohibit settlement in Newfoundland, and to refuse to recognize land ownership by Europeans. They feared it would interfere with the fishing fleet. As early as 1633, and in repeated statutes after that, European settlement in Newfoundland was prohibited by the British government. Ships were not to transport intended settlers, or leave any crew behind. Squatters already there were forbidden to cut trees or build structures within six miles of the coast. Land ownership was not recognized until the early nineteenth century (Government of Canada, Newfoundland: An Introduction to Canada's Newest Province, Ottawa, 1950, pp. 15-41; D. W. Prowse, A History of Newfoundland, London, 1895, p. 143). 

And so, despite what you read in the papers, there was no genocide against the Beothuks. 

You need not take my word for it. This is not controversial among historians. It is the consensus. Pick up Totten and Bartrop's Dictionary of Genocide. Turn to the entry for the Beothuks. “[T]he critical component of intent is absent. The British government did not pursue a policy aimed at the destruction of the Beothuk. … Modern day claims that the Beothuks were 'murdered for fun,' by the English settlers, who hunted them for 'sport' do the historical record less than justice and sow an unfortunate confusion in the mind of an unsuspecting public. Extinction came to the Beothuks of Newfoundland, but it did not come through genocide” (Totten and Bartrop, Dictionary of Genocide, Westport, CT, 2008, p. 39). Or take Miller's recent treatment of the history of Indians in Canada, Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens: “Older notions that the Europeans somehow 'used' the Mi'kmaq against the Beothuk are invalid, as is the controversial charge that Europeans hunted Beothuk for 'sport'…. [T]hey were not systematically hunted down, nor were they the objects of a campaign of genocide… Accusations of genocide in Newfoundland … diminish Europeans' humanity by accusing them of actions they did not perform” (Skyscrapers Hide the Heavens, J. R. Miller, U of T Press, 1989). 

So there. 

Granted, in a few outports on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, Beothuk Indians seem to have come into conflict with fishermen. Sir Joseph Banks writes, in 1766, "Our people, who fish in these parts, live in a continual state of warfare with them, firing at them whenever they meet with them, and if they chance to find their houses or wigwams as they call them, plundering them immediately, …” 

This, however, he does not understand as hunting anybody down. This was war. And there were two sides in the war. He goes on to say, "They in return, look upon us in exactly the same light as we do them, killing our people whenever they get the advantage of them, and stealing or destroying their nets, wherever they find them” (Howley, p. 28, from Journal of Sir Joseph Banks, 1766). 

Has Banks not, at least, proven the existence of the Beothuks? Not quite; he is only reporting second hand, and so offering oral traditions. He adds, "So much for the Indians: if half of what I have written about them is true, it is more than I expect, ..." (Howley, p. 28).

John Cartwright

In 1768, Governor Palliser commissioned Lieutenant John Cartwright to head into the unknown interior, to see if he could indeed find any local Indians, and if so to establish friendly relations. Cartwright too speaks of local conflict with the Beothuk, and unequivocally blames the English fisherpeople. 

“On the part of the English fishers, it is an inhumanity which sinks them far below the level of savages. The wantonness of their cruelties towards the poor wretches, has frequently been almost incredible. One well-known fact shall serve as a specimen. A small family of Indians being surprised in their wigwam, by a party of fishermen, they all tried to avoid if possible, the instant death that threatened them from the fire-arms of their enemies; when one woman, being unable to make her escape, yielded herself into their power. Seeing before her none but men, she might naturally have expected that her sex alone would have disarmed their cruelty; but to awaken in them still stronger motives to compassion, she pointed with an air of most moving entreaty to her prominent belly. Could all nature have produced another pleader of such eloquence as the infant there concealed? But this appeal, Oh, shame to humanity! was alas! in vain; for an instant stab, that ripped open her womb, laid her at the feet of those cowardly ruffians, where she expired in great agonies. Their brutal fury died not with its unhappy victim; for with impious hands they mutilated the dead body, so as to become a spectacle of the greatest horror. And that no aggravation of their crime might be wanting, they made, at their return home, their boasts of this exploit. Charity might even have prevailed in their favour, against their own report, and have construed their relation into an idle pretence only of wickedness, which, however, they were incapable of having in reality committed, had they not produced the hands of the murdered woman, which they displayed on the occasion as a trophy” (Cartwright, in Howley, p. 34). 
And again from Cartwright: 

“Some fishermen, as they doubled in their boat, a point of land, discovering a single defenceless woman with an infant on her shoulders, one of them instantly discharged at her a heavy load of swan shot, and lodged it in her loins. Unable now to sustain her burthen, she unwillingly put it down, and with difficulty crawled into the woods, holding her hand upon the mortal wound she had received, and without once taking off her eyes from the helpless object she had left behind her. In this dreadful situation she beheld her child ravished from her by her murderers, who carried it to their boat. ... but what feeling, what mode of disgust has nature implanted in the human heart, to express its abhorrence of the wretch who can be so hardened to vice as to conceive that he is entitled to a reward for the commission of such bloody deeds! One of the very villains concerned in this capture of the child, supposing it a circumstance that would be acceptable to the Governor, actually came to the writer of these remarks at Toulinguet, to ask a gratuity for the share he had borne in the transaction” (Cartwright, Howley, p. 34-5). 

Cartwright continues:

“[S]urprises in their wigwams have generally proved fatal to them, and upon sudden accidental meetings it has been the usual practice of the fishermen to destroy them unprovoked, while the terrified Indians have attempted nothing but to make their escape, of which the two cases I have mentioned are shocking instances. The fishermen generally even take a brutal pleasure in boasting of these barbarities. He that has shot one Indian values himself more upon the fact than had he overcome a bear or wolf and fails not to speak of it with a brutal triumph, especially in the mad hours of drunkenness” (Cartwright, Howley, p. 36). 

One can certainly see, from this, where the story of genocide came from. It may, indeed, have come completely from this government report, and the testimony of Cartwright. 

There remains, however, the possibility that Cartwright is not a reliable narrator. He may not be entirely fair to the fisherfolk, in putting all the blame on them. He writes, after all, in the first heady days of the Romantic period, when to be young, as Wordsworth put it, was very heaven. Never were savages nobler. Living in the innocence of nature, they could not themselves have been responsible for any sort of sinful act. Had they been, the fall would have ensued, and they would already be Europeans. They were necessarily as guiltless as the jaybirds or the bunny rabbits. 

If he is so influenced, Cartwright my simply be assuming a priori that the Beothuks cannot have been guilty of any comparable fault. But in the end he assumes this because he assumes they are less than human. 

Moreover, there is a certain odour of classism in Cartwright's condemnation of the very poor, poorly educated, lower-class fisherfolk. In telling the tale of the taking of the Beothuk child, Cartwright seems most upset at the fact that the orphaned child was put on display before the common riffraff. And for money! And so little money! 

“The woman was shot in August 1768, and to complete the mockery of human misery, her child was the winter following, exposed as a curiosity to the rabble at Pool for two pence apiece'” (Howley, p. 35; John Cartwright, “Remarks on the Situation of the Red Indians”). 

This sort of hoi polloi might even vote for Trump. 

Who started the fight? That, unfortunately, is lost in the Newfoundland fog. All of this happened where there was no law, and well beyond the reach of official records. 

“I was informed by Henry Rousell, residing in Hall's Bay,” says Thomas Peyton, a prominent figure on the northeast coast, “that the first five men who attempted to make a settlement in that Bay were all killed by the Indians. A crew came up from Twillingate shortly afterwards and found their bodies with the heads cut off and stuck on poles” (Howley, p. 282). 

So according to the fishermen, it began with the Beothuks. 

Much earlier, there also seems to have been conflict between the Beothuks and the French. “On October l0th, 1610, the Procureur of St. Malo made complaint that in the preceding year many masters and sailors of vessels fishing in Newfoundland, had been killed by the savages, and presented a request to Court that the inhabitants of St. Malo be allowed to arm two vessels to make war upon the savages, so that they might be able to fish in safety. Permission was obtained, and St. Malo fishermen fitted out every year, one or more vessels for this purpose. … The custom was continued at least until 1635” (Howley, p. 22). 

“In the harbor of Les Oyes(?), (St Julien)” reports Sir David Kirke, writing in or around 1638, “about eighty Indians assaulted a companie of French whilst they were pylinge up their fishinge, and slew seven of them; proceedinge a little further, killed nine more in the same manner, and clothinge sixteen of their company in the apparell of the slayne French, they went on the next day to the harbor of Petty Masters (Croc Harbor), and not being suspected by the French that were there, by reason of their habit, they surprised them at their work and killed twenty-one more. Soe, in two dayes having barbarously maymed thirty-seven, they returned home, as is their manner, in great triumph, with the heads of the slayne Frenchmen” (Kirke's Conquest of Canada, Howley, p. 23). 

Captain Wheeler, Commander of an English convoy, in 1684, attests, "The French ... are at utter variance with the Indians, who are numerous, and so the French never reside in winter, and always have their arms by them" (Howley, p. 24). 

Note that, given the general uncertainty, we cannot be sure these conflicts were with the Beothuks, as opposed to the Eskimo, Innu, or Micmac, any of whom might also have been passing through Newfoundland. But if there was early conflict between the Beothuk and the French, that is remarkable. The French had a talent for getting along well with Indians. And the French got along especially well, specifically, with the Innu and the Micmac. 

The fisherfolk, as Cartwright is apparently unaware or does not see fit to report, also had their tales of Beothuk atrocities. 

“An old man named George Wells, of Exploits Burnt Island, gave me the following information in 1886. ... His great uncle on his mother's side, Rousell of New Bay, ... was killed by them while taking salmon out of his pound (weir) in New Bay River. The Indians hid in the bushes and shot him with arrows, wounding him very severely. He ran back towards his salmon house where he had a gun tailed, but he fell dead before reaching it” (Howley, p. 270). 

“They frequently lay in ambush for the fishermen and even used decoys, such as sea birds attached to long lines. When the fishermen approached and gave chase to the birds, in their boats the Indians would gradually draw their decoys towards the shore, in order to get the boats within reach of their arrows. They sometimes used 'dumb arrows' all of wood, without any iron point, which by reason of their lightness fell short when fired off, thus leading the fishermen to believe they could approach nearer without running any risk, but when they did so they were met with a shower of well pointed and heavier arrows” (Howley, p. 270). 

Inspector Grimes of the Newfoundland Constabulary, a native of Notre Dame Bay, testified “how a party of fishermen were attacked in their boat by the Indians and all killed except one man who managed to effect his escape with an arrow sticking in his neck behind the ear. In this plight he reached his home with the boat” (Howley, p. 273).

Shawandithit's drawings of 'Beothuk life. 

From the Beothuk perspective, no doubt, even if they fired first, it was entirely within their natural rights to attack anyone trespassing on their lands. The Europeans were the trespassers. You can see their point. 

But you can also see the point of view of a poor fisherman living alone on the northeast shore, unacknowledged by the government, far from the protections of civilization. The Beothuk were taking any of his belongings left unattended; they were trying to kill him, his wife, and his children. He had three choices: get out the best he could, probably having nowhere else to go; lay down and die; or defend himself. Since the Indians were rarely seen, hardly seemed in full occupancy, and he was living off the sea, not their land, he also might not have seen their point about trespass. 

As for the government, Cartwright's allegations of conflict between fishermen and Indians on the northeast coast seem to have been news to them. A committee of enquiry was struck, and took testimony from, among others, Vice Admiral Edwards, governor from 1757 to 1759, and again 1789-90. "He knew one instance, in 1758, of a murder committed by some Irish hunters on the north part of the island; they fired into a wigwam, killed a woman with a child and brought away a girl of nine years old. Complaint was made to him by the Justices, and pains taken to catch the culprits, but without effect. The girl was brought home to England." If the miscreants had been caught, Edwards added, “he would have tried them at the Court of Oyer and Terminer.” But, at the same time, “Mr Cartwright never made any complaints to him of the cruel treatment of the Indians by the inhabitants, and he knows of no other instance of it" (Howley, p. 54). 

Being now apprised of the situation, however, the majestic cogs and little flywheels of government began to turn, and entirely on the side of the still semi-mythical Beothuks. Within the year after Cartwright's report, John Byron, the incumbernt governor, issued a proclamation: 

“WHEREAS it has been represented to the King, that the subjects residing in the said Island of Newfoundland, instead of cultivating such a friendly intercourse with the savages inhabiting that island as might be for their mutual benefit and advantage, do treat the said savages with the greatest inhumanity, and frequently destroy them without the least provocation or remorse. In order, therefore, to put a stop to such inhuman barbarity, and that the perpetrators of such atrocious crimes may be brought to due punishment, it is His Majesty's royal will and pleasure, that I do express his abhorrence of such inhuman barbarity, and I do strictly enjoin and require all His Majesty's subjects to live in amity and brotherly kindness with the native savages of the said island of Newfoundland. I do also require and command all officers and magistrates to use their utmost diligence to discover and apprehend all persons who may be guilty of murdering any of the said native Indians, in order that such offenders may be sent over to England, to be tried for such capital crimes as by the statute of 10 and 11 William III for encouraging the trade to Newfoundland is directed. 

Given under my hand, 

J. BYRON.” (Howley, p. 45) 

Note that, by this proclamation, the killing of an Indian was not just to be prosecuted as murder; it was actually a more serious crime. Unlike a mere murder, it was to be tried in England. As a practical matter, this was probably to ensure that local jurors could not club together in support of one of their own. But also as a practical matter, it made anyone charged with the murder of an aboriginal, innocent or guilty, liable for the costs of their passage to England. A significant burden for a poor fisherman in a Newfoundland outport. 

Just to make sure the message got through, the proclamation was re-issued by Commodore Robert Duff, Governor in 1775, and again by Governor Montague, in 1776 (Howley, p. 45). It was toughened by later governors. In 1807, for example, Governor Holloway issued this proclamation. 

“It having been represented to me that various acts of violence and inhuman cruelties, have been, at different times, committed by some of the people employed as Furriers [i.e., trappers], or otherwise, upon the Indians, the original Inhabitants of this Island, residing in the interior parts thereof, contrary to every principle of religion and humanity, and in direct violation of His Majesty's mild and beneficial Instructions to me respecting this poor defenceless tribe, I hereby issue this my Proclamation, warning all persons whatsoever, from being guilty of acts of cruelty, violence, outrage and robbery against them, and if any Person or Persons shall be found after this Proclamation, to act in violation of it, they will be punished to the utmost rigor of the law, the same as if it had been committed against myself, or any other of His Majesty's Subjects. And all those who may have any intercourse or trade with the said Indians, are hereby earnestly entreated to conduct themselves with peaceableness and mildness towards them, and use their utmost endeavours to live in kindness and friendship with them that they may be conciliated and induced to come among us as Brethren, when the public, as well as themselves, will be benefited by their being brought to a state of civilization, social order, and to a blessed knowledge of the Christian Religion. And I hereby offer a Reward of Fifty Pounds to such person or persons as shall be able to induce or persuade any of the male Tribe of Native Indians to attend them to the Town of St. John's, as also all expenses attending their journey or passage. The same Reward shall be paid to any person who shall give information of any murder committed upon the bodies of the aforesaid Indians and being proved upon the oath of one or more credible witnesses. I therefore call upon all Magistrates and other Officers of Justice, to promote to the utmost of their power, the intention of this Proclamation, by apprehending and bringing to justice all persons offending against the same. 

Given under my hand at Fort Townshend, St. John's, Newfoundland, the 30th July, 1807, 

J. HOLLOWAY. (Howley, p. 64-5). 

In 1813, Governor Keats's proclamation ended with these words: “[I]f any of His Majesty's subjects, contrary to the expression of these, His Royal Highness's commands, shall so far forget themselves, and be so lost to the sacred duties of Religion and Hospitality, as to exercise any cruelty, or be guilty of any ill-treatment towards this inoffensive people, they may expect to be punished with the utmost rigour of the Law” (Howley, p. 91). 

So there you are. Not a lot of ambiguity. With regard to the charge of officially sanctioned genocide, a very cold, non-smoking, gun. 

If anything, the government took the side of the Indians. Perhaps those of us of European descent should demand reparations. 

One hopes that there was some official intention, even if unspoken, to also prosecute and punish Beothuks who murdered fishermen. 

The conflict simply demonstrates that the natural state of man is, in Hobbes's phrase, a “war of all against all.” People of the palest possible skin, forced by the absence of government into such a situation, must act just as Indians did. 

George Cartwright, John Cartwright's brother, was asked by the commission of enquiry, “Had the Magistrates used any exertions to prevent those outrages?” Cartwright replied, "There are no Magistrates within that district, that he knew of,...." “And being asked, whether the Magistrates resident within any of the other districts were capable of preventing these horrors if they exerted themselves for that purpose, he said, 'He does not believe they could, because they reside at too great a distance'" (interview of George Cartwright. Commission of Enquiry into the Trade with Newfoundland, 1793, Howley, p. 51). It was all a consequence of having no government. 

“[S]uch has been the policy respecting this island,” John Reeves, Newfoundland's Chief Justice, agreed, “that the residents for many years had little benefit of a regular government for themselves, and when they were so neglected, it is not to be wondered that the condition of the poor Indians was never mended” (Commission of Enquiry into Trade with Newfoundland. Testimony of John Reeves, Chief Justice, Howley, p. 54-5). 

So, given that it was not genocide, what killed the Beothuks? 

In the first instance, what we have here is a failure to communicate. 

As noted, Europeans settlers had no cause to kill Indians. Just the reverse—Indians were valuable suppliers, advisors, labourers, and customers. 

This was the attitude of the English authorities from the beginning. They wanted a fur trade. When, early in the 1600s, the “Council and Company of the New-Found-Land Plantation” formed for the purpose of colonization, among the articles of incorporation was that the company's ships were to carry, duty-free, “...all other things necessary and for the use and desoine and trade with the people there, if any be inhabiting in that country or shall come out of other parts, there, to trade with the 'Plantation,' ..." (Howley, p. 14). It was almost their first thought. 

The problem is, to make this work, you need to establish communication, and make them understand that you want to trade. In many places, this was spontaneous. The Indians spontaneously offered to trade with Columbus almost as soon as he appeared anywhere. So too Cartier. But what do you do, with a new tribe, if they do not initiate the offer? For one thing, nobody speaks anybody else's language. In the case of the Beothuks, being an island people, rarely seen and obviously shy, to say the least, of any outsiders, this was a conundrum. There were also no other nearby tribes in friendly relation who could pass the hint, act as interpreters, or give them any information. 

Once Lieutenant Cartwright's expedition, in 1768, had confirmed that there probably were local Indians, the authorities tried to somehow establish contact. Aside from the material benefits to both Indians and themselves, this would bring the Beothuk, and the fishermen, within the protection of law. 

One strategy, tried on many occasions, was to leave “gifts” in any abandoned Indian dwelling, or at places the Indians were thought to frequent. 

This may have been counterproductive. It did not result, usually, in any trade, and never established a trading tradition. But it might have reinforced an idea, among the Indians, that they could take from the Europeans whatever they wanted. Perhaps it was all a gift. This idea might well have been already fostered by the European ban of settlement on the island. Without permanent residents, fishing parties were obliged to leave their shore stations, needed for the drying of the catch, untended each winter. Anything left there was available to any nearby Beothuks just for the taking. Able therefore to get Europeans goods without cost, there was that much less incentive among the Beothuks for any trade

The next idea was probably worse. Tried several times, it was to kidnap an Indian, treat them well, and then release them back to their tribe, to report on what a decent bunch of fellows the English were. When Sir John Guy set out in 1610 to found a colony for the Newfoundland Company, among his instructions were "And we would have you to assay by all good means to capture one of the savages of the country and to intreate him well, and to keep him and teach him our language, that you may after obtayne a safe and free commerce with them, which are strong there" (Prowse, p. 96). 

This involved one obvious difficulty: kidnapping is not naturally seen as a friendly act. When tried, it almost always led to killing at least one Indian—all in necessary “self-defense” while spiriting another off. Worse, kidnapped Indians had a nasty habit of dying of consumption in custody, making all the nice treatment, gifts and attention a bit of a waste. And probably leaving the distinct impression among surviving relatives at home that they had been murdered.

The kidnapping of Demasduit, as recalled by Shawandithit

Even Beothuk captives who did survive were apparently afraid to return to their people. “Shawnawdithit,” according to a resolution of the Beothuk Institute, formed for the protection and assistance of the Beothuk race, “the surviving female of those who were captured four years ago, by some fishermen, will not now return to her tribe, for fear they should put her to death” (information from Mr. Cormack. Howley, p. 184). “She feared to return to her tribe, believing that the mere fact of her residing amongst the whites for a time, would make her an object of hatred to the Red men” (Howley, p. 221). Demasduit, an earlier captive, when brought back inland, did not seem eager. First she would not get out of the boat, then declared “that she only wanted her child and that she would return with us” (Buchan's Report of Second Expedition, Howley, p. 121). Perhaps life among the Europeans was just too wonderful. Or perhaps she was worried about her fate should she return. 

In 1808, Governor Holloway hit upon a novel idea: make a painting, showing Indians trading happily with Europeans, and have it conveyed to the Beothuk, to plant the appropriate idea in their minds. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words in a language they cannot understand. 

A painting was therefore commissioned in England. A Lieutenant Spratt was sent to the Bay of Exploits “in order to attempt a communication with the native savages of the Island.” With him, he carried the oil painting “which represented an officer of the Royal Navy in full dress shaking hands with an Indian chief, and pointing to a party of seamen behind him who were laying some bales of goods at the feet of the chief. Behind the latter were some male and female Indians presenting furs to the officers. Further to the left were seen an European and an Indian mother looking with delight at their respective children of the same size, who were embracing one another. In the opposite corner a British tar was courting, in his way, an Indian beauty” (Howley, p. 68).

Artist's reproduction (not the original) of Governor Holloway's trade painting.

Unfortunately, no Indians were found. Not so easy to trek an oil painting overland. 

The painting reportedly now hangs at Government House in St. John's. 

In 1810, burdened with gifts, Lieutenant David Buchan was sent by the governor to again attempt contact. He surprised a Beothuk camp, and seemed to make them understand his honourable intentions. At last, the desired commerce seemed at hand. 

“[F]rom the utmost state of alarm they soon became curious, and examined our dress with great attention and surprise. They kindled a fire and presented us with venison steaks, and fat run into a solid cake, which they used with lean meat. Everything promised the utmost cordiality; knives, handkerchiefs, and other little articles were presented to them, and in return they offered us skins. I had to regret our utter ignorance of their language, and the presents at a distance of at least twelve miles occasioned me much embarrassment; I used every endeavour to make them understand my great desire that some of them should accompany us, to the place where our baggage was, and assist bringing up such things as we wore, which at last they seemed perfectly to comprehend. Three hours and a half having been employed in conciliatory endeavours, and every appearance of the greatest amity subsisting between us; and considering a longer tarry useless, without the means of convincing them farther of our friendship, giving them to understand that we were going, and indicating our intention to return, four of them signified that they would accompany us. James Butler, corporal, and Thomas Bouthland, private of marines, observing this, requested to be left behind in order to repair their snow shoes; and such was the confidence placed by my people in the natives that most of the party wished to be the individuals to remain among them. I was induced to comply with the first request from a motive of showing the natives a mutual confidence, and cautioning them to observe the utmost regularity of conduct, at 10 a.m., having myself again shook hands with all the natives, and expressed, in the best way I could, my intentions to be with them in the morning, we set out. They expressed satisfaction by signs on seeing that two of us were going to remain with them, and we left them accompanied by four of them. ... Being under the necessity of going single, in turning a point one of the Indians having loitered behind, took the opportunity, and set off with great speed calling out to his comrade to follow. ... This incident was truly unfortunate, as we were nearly in sight of our fire place. ... He had however, evidently some suspicions, as he had frequently come and looked eagerly in my face, as if to read my intentions. ... In order to try the disposition of the remaining Indian he was made to understand that he was at liberty to go if he chose, but he showed no wish of this kind. At 3 p.m. we joined the rest of our party, when the Indian started at seeing so many more men; but this was of momentary duration, for he soon became pleased with all he saw; I made him a few presents and showed the articles which were to be taken up for his countrymen consisting of blankets, woollen wrappers, and shirts, beads, hatchets, knives and tin pots, thread, needles and fish hooks, with which he appeared much satisfied, and regaled himself with tea and broiled venison, …” 

The daily journal goes on: 

“Friday the 25th of Jan. — Wind NNE and boisterous with sleet. At 7 A.M. set out leaving only eight of the party behind. … At 2 P.M. we arrived at the wigwams, when my apprehensions were unfortunately verified; they were left in confusion, nothing of consequence remaining in them but some deer skins. 

Saturday 26th Jan. — Wind ENE, blowing strong, with sleet and freezing weather. As soon as it was light the crew were put in motion, and placing an equal number of blankets, shirts and tin pots in each of the wigwams, I gave the Indian to understand that those articles were for the individuals who resided in them. Some more presents were given to him, also some articles attached to the red staff, all of which he seemed to comprehend. At 7 a.m. we left the place intending to return the Monday following. Seeing that the Indian came on, I signified my wish for him to go back; he however continued with us, sometimes running on a little before in a zigzag direction, keeping his eyes to the ice as having a trace to guide him, and once pointed to the westward, and laughed. Being now about two-thirds of a mile from the wigwams, he edged in suddenly, and for an instant halted; then took to speed [ran off]. We at this moment observed that he had stopped to look at a body lying on the ice, he was still within half a musket-shot, but as his destruction could answer no end, so it would have been equally vain to attempt pursuit; we soon lost sight of him in the haze. On coming up we recognised with horror the bodies of our two unfortunate companions lying about a hundred yards apart; that of the corporal being first, was pierced by one arrow in the back; three arrows had entered that of Bouthland. They were laid out straight with their feet towards the river, and backs upwards; their heads were off, and carried away, and no vestige of garments left. Several broken arrows lying about and a quantity of bread, which must have been emptied out of their knapsacks; very little blood was visible” (“Narrative of Lieut. Buchan's Journey up the Exploits River in Search of the Red Indians in the Winter of 1810-1811”; Howley, pp. 77-80). 


The naive plans of civilized men, destroyed by the inevitable logic of total war. You mean that, given a decent chance, these people are not trying to kill us? What kind of suckers do you think we are?  According to Shawandithit, the last Beothuk, the tribe, left alone, had decided the Europeans must have gone to bring a larger contingent in order to wipe them out. Best to disappear. But first, kill the hostages so they cannot give any clues. 

In fairness, beyond the technical problems, the Beothuk seem to bear some responsibility here. They were in fact profoundly xenophobic, even by Indian standards. Several reports have it that, unlike all other Indians, they did not keep dogs. Might this suggest some kind of purity taboo? 

In trying to establish contact, what would you have done? 

The French, perhaps, would have sent in a few Jesuits to be tortured and killed, to establish their good character. The English, presumably, lacked volunteeers. 

This was unlucky primarily for the Beothuks. With a fur trade, instead of dying out, they might have prospered. Besides cool swag of all kinds, and, not incidentally, no longer being shot at, they might have acquired guns for both self-defense and the hunt. If this did not already ensure enough food at all times, furs could be bartered for additional victuals. Even if they had no furs to trade, it would have been in the European traders' self-interest, as we have seen elsewhere, to keep them alive in any extremity. 

But there were worse consequences of the Beothuk failure to truck and trade. There were lots of good-looking fur bearing beasts in Newfoundland: beaver, foxes, martens. Their policy of protectionism left a vacuum for others to fill. 

And not just European trappers, although they also came into conflict with the Beothuk. The French set up a post at Placentia, on the south coast. The Micmacs, familiar with the French and the fur trade, followed them. They began trapping in Newfoundland, and a thriving market in furs grew. 

But they were now in common direct contact with the Beothuk, who hated intruders, and in competition with them for resources. And they, having trading with the Europeans, had guns. The Beothuk, not trading, had none. 

Shawandithit was kidnapped from her family at about age twenty. At that age, she had two gunshot wounds, one in the hand and one in the thigh. Both, according to her, were from Micmacs. 

A neighbour relates that Shawandithit, living with Mr. Peyton on the northeast shore, “was greatly alarmed at the sight of two Micmacs who came once to visit him, and hid herself during their stay” (Howley, p. 26, from Jukes, Excursions in Newfoundland). “According to Mr. Peyton, she exhibited the greatest antipathy to the Micmacs, more especially towards one Noel Boss, whom she so dreaded that whenever he, or even his dog made their appearance, she would run screeching with terror and cling to Mr P. [Peyton] for protection” (Howley, p. 176, Extract of a disputation from R. A. Tucker, Esq. Administering to the Government of Newfoundland, to R. Horton, Esq., 1825). 

We hear there was a Micmac tradition that, at the beginning of the 17th century, just when firearms would have become available, “a great battle took place between the Micmacs and the Red Indians [Beothuk] at the head of Grand Pond (Lake), but as the former were then armed with guns they defeated the latter, and massacred every man, woman and child” (Howley, p. 269-70). Clearly, there was no love lost here. 

Like the Europeans, the Micmac had traditional complaints against the Beothuk. On meeting a Micmac in Bay of St George, one Lieutenant Chappell in 1818 asked him for information on the legendary “red Indians,” the Beothuk. Did they too, like the Catholic Micmac, worship God? “With a sneer of the most ineffable contempt, he replied. 'No; no look up to God: killee all men dat dem see, Red Indian no good'” (Lieutenant Chappell, 1818, The Voyage of the Rosamond; quoted Howley, p. 288). 

We need not, of course, accept that as the definitive word on the Beothuks. More like an indication of war of all against all. 

Here too, the Beothuk hostility to outsiders did not serve them well. They apparently had the general reputation among their neighbours of being hostile and warlike. Worse, they were big, strong, athletic, and very good at war; “invincible” (Cormack, 1822). They regularly fought with the Eskimo to their north, “whom they despised, and called the 'four paws,'”--i.e., brute beasts (Howley, p. 270). They also fought, according to Cartwright, with the “Canadians,” probably the Innu. “These Indians [the Beothuk] are not only secluded thus from any communication with Europeans, but they are ... effectually cut off from the society of every other Indian people. The Canadians have generally a strong hunt that range the western coast of Newfoundland, between whom and these natives reigns so mortal an enmity ... that they never meet but a bloody combat ensues” (John Cartwright, quoted by Howley, p. 35). 

So, as soon as their neighbours got firearms, they had a good idea of how best to use them. 

It is no great surprise, therefore, that the Beothuk were wiped out. The same thing happened to many other tribes; and over the same resource. Recall the Beaver Wars that raged across the eastern United States, wiping out Mohicans, Hurons, Erie, Neutrals. Moreover, remember that there were probably at all times very few Beothuks. At their peak, there might have been one or two thousand. If they had been some animal species, this would have automatically qualified them as “endangered.” Endangered because any slight environmental stress might at any time throw them into a demographic death spiral. 

We care uniquely much about the case of the Beothuks, among so many so much less familiar, largely because they happened to die out during the Romantic period. Halcyon noble savage days. Romantics also love ruins, deserted places, and melancholy. Here we get them all rolled up into one sad beautiful legend. 

One can almost taste and touch the Romantic feelings in Cormack's account of his last expedition overland to seek the Beothuks. It was this expedition, funded by the “Beothuk Institute” of which Cormack was founder and president, that established their ultimate non-existence. Coming across some picturesque empty wigwams, he meditates, almost in the tone of Shelley's Ozymandias, 

“We spent several melancholy days wandering on the borders of the east end of the lake, surveying the various remains of what we now contemplated to have been an unoffending and cruelly extirpated race. At several places, by the margin of the lake, small clusters of winter and summer wigwams in ruins” (quoted in Howley, p. 192). 

A perfect Romantic set piece; and civilization was the necessary villain. 

Some, in the Romantic spirit of a Cormack, maintain that, even if they did not actually shoot them down like rabbits, the Europeans were nevertheless wilfully responsible for the Beothuks' end. Settled civilizaion, after all, took their land, and drove them away from the coast into the “forests and barrens,” as Maher put it in the National Post. It left them with no means of subsistence. 

Who, after all, could expect an Indian to support himself in a forest? 

Even this, however, is not a fair accusation. 

Recall that European settlement was sparse, and even officially prohibited, for most of Newfoundland history—almost until after the Beothuks died out. Recall that the Europeans doubted there even were any aboriginal inhabitants. If there were always so few, how could they have crowded them out? 

Starvation does seem to have been an issue in the last days. When Shawandithit was abducted, she was starving, her sister was starving, and her mother was starving. She testified that many others of her tribe had died recently of hunger: “In the second winter afterwards [i.e., after the Buchan expedition; either 1813 or 1816; dates here are confused in the source], twenty-two had died about the river Exploits, and in the vicinity of Green Bay: and the third year also numbers died of hardship and want” (Howley, p. 227). 

However, Shawandithit was described as very tall. “She seemed about 22 years of age. ... Her complexion was swarthy, not unlike the Micmacs; her features were handsome; she was a tall fine figure and stood nearly six feet high, and such a beautiful set of teeth, I do not know that I ever saw in a human head” (Diary of Reverend William Wilson, quoted by Howley, p. 260). 

This accords with a general traditon that the Beothuks were quite tall.

“It has been customary on the part of fishermen and others to describe them as a race of gigantic stature and numerous instances are recorded to bear out this statement. Major George Cartwright, in speaking of the Indians he saw on an island in Dildo Run, says "One of them appeared to be remarkably tall" (Howley, p. 257). An anonymous writer in the Liverpool Mercury, present at the capture of Mary March (Demasduit), kidnapped in hopes of establishing relations, speaks of her husband, killed in the effort of capturing her, measuring six feet seven and a half inches. A man shot in Trinity Bay is described as a “huge savage,” and another seen by one Richards in Notre Dame Bay was “seven feet tall” (Howley, pp. 257-8). Buchan, in his 1811 expedition, does not discover them, at least at this late date, to be as tall as advertised. But he does still report them as taller than the average European, and “extremely healthy and athletic” (Howley, p. 86). 

One does not reach immense stature, as a rule, if one has been malnourished as a child. Yet even at the very end, Shawandithit was tall; and her childhood had ended only years before. 

Accordingly, any absence of food must have been a recent phenomenon. 

Indeed, when Cartwright ventured into the supposed “barrens” in 1768, the word that most occurs to him is “abundance.” 

“In the winter it seems they reside chiefly on the banks of the Exploits, where they are enabled to procure a plentiful subsistence, as appeared by the abundance of horns and bones that lay scattered about their wigwams at the deer fences…. [T]he channel of the Exploits, stretching itself directly across the regular and constant track of the deer, must necessarily insure to them abundance of venison” (John Cartwright, Howley, p. 33). “It will be readily admitted that a country intersected throughout with rivers and ponds and abounding with wood and marshy ground is well adapted for uncivilized life, and calculated for the vast herds of deer that annually visit it. This is proved by the incredible quantity of venison they had packed up, and there yet remained on the margin of the pond a vast number of carcases which must have been killed as the frost set in, many being frozen in the ice. The packs were nearly three feet in length, and in breadth and depth fifteen inches, closely packed with fat venison cleared of the bone, and in weight from 150 to 200 lbs., ...” (Cartwright; Howley, p. 86). 

So there you are—like starving in aisle three at Loblaw's. 

One way to get around this is to suppose or suggest that, even if the Europeans did not interfere with their traditional hunting grounds in the interior, the foreign presence on the coast ended their ability to gather fish and birds' eggs, their summer fare. There would be no obvious reason, of course, for the Europeans to interfere in their doing this; they did not want those resources, for the most part, themselves. If this is the case to be made, much or most of the blame must be put on Beothuk xenophobia. 

But even so, even if they had, Cartwright reports: “when we consider on the other hand that the two capes which form the bounds of their settlements are thirty leagues apart, that between them there is at least an island for every man in the largest of these computations [of Beothuk numbers], and that near twenty capacious bays and inlets deeply indent the intermediate part of the coast; we shall easily find shelter in the woods that overhang all these shores, for a much greater number of these savages, who have no temptation to expose themselves carelessly to sight” (Cartwright, quoted by Howley, p. 38). 

Does not sound that crowded.

Beothuk haunts and hangouts.

And it does not seem as though they really even ever needed to go to the coast. 

W.E. Cormack, our Romantic friend from the Beothuk Institute, did his first transit of the Newfoundland interior in search of the Red Indians in 1822, the very time they were apparently starving to death. Even then, he found a natural abundance. Moreover, he made his transit in summer, supposedly the fallow period, when the Beothuk were supposedly forced to head for the coast to survive. Loss of that access, then, if they ever lost it, cannot have been the critical factor. 

To prove the point, although this was not their motive, Cormack and his Micmac companion themselves easily lived off the land throughout their transit. 

“[G]rouse, ... the indigenous game bird of the country, rose in coveys in every direction, and snipes from every marsh. The birds of passage, ducks and geese, were flying over us to and fro from their breeding places in the interior and the sea coast; tracks of deer, of wolves fearfully large, of bears, foxes, and martens, were seen everywhere...[L]and berries were ripening, game birds were fledging, and beasts were emerging to prey upon each other. Everything animate or inanimate seemed to be our own. We consumed unsparingly our remaining provisions, confident that henceforward, ... the destruction of one creature would afford us nourishment and vigour for the destruction of others.” 

“One of the most striking features of the interior are the innumerable deer paths on the savannas. They are narrow and take directions as various as the winds, giving the whole country a chequered appearance. Of the millions of acres here, there is no one spot exceeding a few superficial yards that is not bounded on all sides by deer paths. … The paths tend from park to park through the intervening woods, in lines as established and deep beaten as cattle paths on an old grazing farm” (Howley, pp. 139-141). 

His list of tasty and nutritious natural resources goes on—but this is enough to make the point. Otherwise we are going to start sounding like the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism. 

Cormack runs across no Beothuk, but does meet Micmac, and Innu. Chatting with the Innu, native to Labrador, he learns the latter “had come to Newfoundland, hearing that it was a better hunting country than his own” (Cormack, Howley, p. 148). 

Obviously, the Europeans were not critically infringing on the Beothuk hunting grounds. The game was better than in Labrador, good enough even in the off-season to attract Indians from some distance. 

So how did the Beothuk starve in the midst of plenty? 

Not that strange—the Huron starved in similar circumstances. So did the Ethiopians, a few decades ago. Famine is often a consequence of war. 

The Innu, the Micmac, and Cormack had one big advantage over the Beothuk in their hunting: guns. What they saw, they could shoot. Lacking them, the Beothuks' method for catching the caribou, their main food source, was highly labour-intensive: they built fencing, forcing the migrating caribou to a point where they could be easily killed as they forded the river. The typical fence was a half mile long, doubled and running parallel, and had to be six to ten feet high, so the caribou could not jump over and escape. 

Once the Beothuk population, already marginal, dropped below a certain level, they might well rather suddenly no longer have the manpower to keep these fences in good repair. 

Add to that the fact that, if Micmac or Innu might be anywhere, and a European trapper might be anywhere else, and any of them would shoot a Beothuk on sight, and it looks hard to work outside, in small groups, in the open. Such long elaborate fencing could also be easily destroyed by an enemy at any point along its length. 

And what, do you suppose, was the one resource that Cormack, in his soulful wandering, found to be depleted? “The beaver, ..., Owing to the presence of the birch tree, ..., all the brooks and lakes in the basin of the interior have been formerly and many are still inhabited by beavers, but these have in many places been destroyed by Indians” (Howley, p. 142). The Beothuk no doubt prized the beaver for food, but these significant depradations suggest, here as elsewhere, the fur trade. 

The Beothuks were not trading in furs. 

With smallpox blankets, the accepted moral has been that the Indians should shy away from anything from the outside. They were better off keeping away from the Europeans, staying segregated, preserving their traditional culture in aspic, not mixing at parties. This is still and again the main thrust of current Canadian policy regarding Canada's Indians, Metis, and Eskimo. Integration bad; segregation good. Residential schools bad; reserves good. 

Yet this is exactly what the Beothuk did, to the letter and the dot or cross above it. They are the perfect case study in the recommended approach. They scrupulously avoided all contact with the filthy aliens, scrupulously preserved their culture just as it always had been, resisted any foreign intrusions. 

How well did that work out? 

The Cree, who shamelessly consorted with the Hudson's Bay Company from the start, are now the largest aboriginal group in Canada. Where are the mighty Beothuk? 

They may, granted, by this approach of non-approach, have avoided smallpox. We will probably never know, since they lived and died alone. We do know their segregation did not save them from tuberculosis. Every captive taken out of the interior seemed to have it. This was, historically, the second great scourge of the Indians everywhere. 

Not only did the Beothuk do all the “right” things; so did the helpful Europeans. They largely and for a long time left the land and the Beothuk alone, prohibiting development or even permanent settlement. Just as many have proposed for Indian lands today. 

And how well did that work out? Ask Shawandithit. 

Instead of helping them prosper, these seem to have been the two critical factors causing the Beothuk to cease to be. Had there been settlement, there would have been law and law enforcement. No eternal war of all. Had there been communication and trade, they would have had guns to protect themselves, trade to support them, and neighbours to turn to in their hour of need. 

Canadian First Nations today ought to take a lesson here. Apartheid does not work. All men are brothers in God's eyes. Staying put in the imaginary past is no option. 

There is no reason to repeat the errors of the Beothuks. If we do not learn from them, they have died in vain.

The Mystery of Mateen's Motivation

The real culprit?

My friend the leftist columnist—let's call him “Xerxes,” so I don't have to keep saying “my friend the leftist columnist”-- sent out his column on the Orlando bloodbath just two days ago. I make that a week after the shootings.

He writes “ No one knows Mateen’s motivation.”

This is odd, because he says himself that Mateen phoned 911 during the shooting, and took the trouble to state his motivations. Several times.

This weird blindness has not only afflicted my friend, of course. I have seen it in most accounts in the mainstream media. They all seem to sit around somewhere puzzled. Somehow, it was the gun that did it. Naughty gun. It might not have looked like an AR-15, but it had to be an AR-15, too. The US Department of Justice has even released a transcript of the 911 call in which they tried to actually delete any reference to Mateen's motivations.

What is going on here? More evidence that the world is mad? Being out of touch with external reality, after all, kind of defines that experience.

In the case of my friend, he concludes that it is all down to “fundamentalism,” which, he then clarifies, means “specifically, American right-wing religion.”

Mateen was a registered Democrat.

Fundementalism is specifically a movement within American Protestantism. As a Muslim, Mateen was certainly not fundamentalist in that sense.

More generally, and in common discourse, “fundamentalism” has also come to mean someone who reads the scriptures of their religion in a strictly literal sense, as the fundamentalists do and did.

This tendency, of course, has nothing to do with politics. Reading your scriptures literally does not make you either Republican or Democratic. If, on the whole, the Protestant “fundamentalists” do tend to be right wing politically, then so, according to surveys, do those who take religion seriously in any sense. Was Mother Teresa a fundamentalist? Was Gandhi? Joan of Arc? Saint Francis? Is a Benedictine monk a fundamentalist?

It might be instead that there is a moral problem, not merely a problem of scriptural interpretation, behind such current left-wing policies as unisex toilets, abortion on demand, or a legal obligation to cater gay weddings. A generation or two ago, being religious did not equate to being “right wing” politically. Good Catholics generally voted for Kennedy. Aimee Semple McPherson was a fan of FDR and the New Deal.

In this second sense, of taking his scripture, whatever the particular scripture, literally, Mateen was not a “fundamaentalist” as far as we can tell. Yes, there is a tenet of sharia that calls for death as the penalty for sodomy. But then, the sharia is not the Qu'ran, and is not even based on a literal reading of it.

Moreover, Mateen actually—has anyone else even noticed this?--does not say he is shooting anyone because they are gay. Intimates and previous acquaintances say he was gay himself. He says he is shooting them in protest against the bombing of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Unless they went and redacted something else they're not telling us about.

So, yet again—has the world gone mad, were they always mad, or are they really that dishonest?

Yes, the world has probably always been insane. But we have a special problem here, and this example illustrates it. The reason we have a culture war is that we have lost all possibility of civil discourse. The reason we have lost all possibility of civil discourse is that one side no longer accepts any rules. There is no longer anything common to appeal to: no evidence can be of any weight, not even the evidence of the senses, no morals, and no logic.

That is the explicit agenda of postmodernism, and it did not begin with postmodernism. It saturates feminism: a woman can be and do whatever she wants, and if all established moral codes say otherwise, the problem must be with all established moral codes, and they must be condemned. It can never be with her desired action. That would be oppression. It was certainly already there with Marcuse, in the Sixties and even the Fifties. It is seen plain in the supposedly Marcusan slogan found on some wall during the Paris uprising: “Be careful! Even the ears have walls!”

By this now-common doctrine, “reality” and “truth” are whatever you will them to be. And nobody gets to say any different. It is all a matter of the triumph of the will.

Marcuse claimed in turn to find it all in Marx. He may be right; some part of it at least seems implied in the Marxist idea that man is infinitely malleable. Maybe all of it follows.

I think you can also find some of it, maybe by implication all of it, in Martin Luther, who considered “faith” the essential human act and a moral choice. If he meant “faith” in the sense of trust, all well and good. But a lot of people, and maybe Luther himself, take it to mean “belief.” So, indeed, we even talk of religious people generally as “believers.”

Probable co-conspirator.

Wrong. Truth is not a matter of choice.

I admit that Imyself, once, as a college freshman, even as late as grad schoool, found this attitude exhilarating, liberating. But it is logically nonsense, morally evil, and the death of all community. If everyone gets to choose their own reality, what happens when two people with different realities meet? The only option for resolution is for one to dominate or kill the other.

Hitler and Mussolini were very much in this tradition.

And it is where we are headed, more and more each year.