Mary March museum changing name out of respect for Beothuk woman, director says

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This is a painting of Demasduit, believed to be one of the last known Beothuk in Newfoundland. ( - image credit)
This is a painting of Demasduit, believed to be one of the last known Beothuk in Newfoundland. ( - image credit)

A Newfoundland and Labrador museum that has long displayed the colonial version of a Beothuk woman's name is looking to better represent the historical figure and her people.

The Mary March Provincial Museum in Grand Falls-Windsor, which details the life of Demasduit and the history of Indigenous settlement in Newfoundland, has held onto the anglicized version of her name since it opened.

That will change by April, said Kate Wolforth, director of museums for The Rooms, which owns and operates the museum.

A working group of museum administrators and representatives from regional Indigenous and municipal governments have put forward two options for its renaming: the Demasduit Regional Museum and the Demasduit Regional Interpretation Centre.

"They sound very similar," Wolforth said. "Everyone agreed that Demasduit needed to remain part of the history museum."

Mary March was the more prevalent name for Demasduit among settlers at the time the museum opened in honour of the Beothuk, and the one used by her European captors.

"Obviously it's more respectful to use her proper name," Wolforth said.

Demasduit was kidnapped from Red Indian Lake in central Newfoundland by settlers. She lived out the remainder of her life with them, and she remains one of the most well-known members of the Beothuk people.

"We know when she was kidnapped, we know when she passed away, we know what she did when she was living with Europeans in captivity," Wolforth said.

"She actually did a lot to create the knowledge that we hold now about her people. So she contributed a great deal."

Change 'long overdue'

The museum also contains artifacts from the Mi'kmaq of central Newfoundland.

"I never did like the English name they had on there," said Chief Mi'sel Joe, head of Miawpukek Nation.

"You're not really doing justice to her the way you should be … we know that's her name for sure, and that's what it should be called."

Joe was involved in an attempt to rename nearby Red Indian Lake earlier this year — another small step toward respect and reconciliation, he said.

He considers the proposal to use Demasduit's Beothuk name in the same vein.

"I think it's long overdue, and it also shows government is moving in the right direction," he said. "It may be only small changes in the beginning, but it is going in the right direction."

The Rooms was looking for public feedback on the two new names, and offering residents the chance to suggest their own.

That ended last week, and the new name will be unveiled in January, said Wolforth.

"The history of museums is a colonial one," she acknowledged.

"Museums have a huge role to play in that conversation about anti-racism.… We are educational institutions, fundamentally."

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