Statue in Newfoundland to pay tribute to one of the last of the Beothuk people

BOTWOOD, N.L. — Plans are in the works to install a bronze statue in central Newfoundland to commemorate the death 200 years ago of Demasduit, an Indigenous woman who was among the last surviving members of the Beothuk people.

On Friday, the federal and provincial governments announced $471,000 in funding for the project in Botwood, N.L.

The larger-than-life statue will include Demasduit; her husband, Nonosabasut; and their newborn child.

In March 1819, Nonosabasut — a Beothuk chief — and the couple's child were killed by a group of English settlers who were on an expedition to the island's interior. Demasduit was taken prisoner and renamed Mary March.

She was later taken to an Anglican mission, where she created a list of 180 words from her language, including the word Beothuk.

There was an attempt to return her to her people, but Demasduit died aboard the British warship HMS Grasshopper while it was in the Bay of Exploits on Jan. 8, 1820.

The proposed sculpture will be placed on Botwood’s Blueberry Hill, which overlooks the bay.

The statue will be surrounded by a healing garden, which the provincial government has described as "a place of quiet reflection for our shared journey towards truth and reconciliation."

The original plan for the project was to install the statue in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made that impossible.

The Beothuk were wiped out after European settlers encroached on their land, resulting in deadly conflicts and the introduction of new diseases.

Demasduit's niece, Shawnadithit, is believed to be the last known Beothuk. She died of tuberculosis in St. John's in June 1829.

The province is contributing $115,000 to the Botwood project and Ottawa has committed $356,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Other funding partners include the Town of Botwood, Miawpukek First Nation, Botwood Heritage Society, Botwood Mural Arts Society and the United Church of Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

The Canadian Press