Aboriginal Peoples

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador today is home to four peoples of Aboriginal ancestry: the Inuit, the Innu, the Micmac and the Metis.

The Inuit are the descendants of the Thule people who migrated to Labrador from the Canadian arctic 700 to 800 years ago. The primary Inuit settlements are Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet on the north coast of Labrador, but Inuit people are also found in a number of other Labrador communities. They are represented by the Labrador Inuit Association.

Dorset soapstone bear carving.
In the Arctic, Dorset artists using ivory, bone and wood, carved bears, fish, birds and human faces, all in a remarkable style not previously seen in the region. In Labrador, the preferred medium was soapstone.
Courtesy of the Newfoundland Museum, St. John's, Newfoundland.
Soapstone Bear

The Innu, formerly known as the Naskapi-Montagnais, are descended from Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who were one of two Aboriginal peoples inhabiting Labrador at the time of European arrival. The major Innu communities in Labrador are Sheshatshiu on Lake Melville in central Labrador and Utshimassit (Davis Inlet) on Labrador's northern coast. Today the Innu are represented by the Innu Nation.

The Labrador Metis are descendants of Europeans and Labrador Native people, primarily the Inuit, Labrador Metis today live in a number of communities on the central and southern Labrador coast. They are represented by the Labrador Metis Association which is currently attempting to win acceptance of its Aboriginal status from the federal and provincial governments.

Innu woman carrying tree boughs
Innu woman carrying tree boughs.
Spruce boughs are often used to line the floor of family tents in hunting camps.
Courtesy of Nigel Markham. From Peter Armitage, The Innu (The Montagnais-Naskapi) (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, ©1991) 54.

The Newfoundland Micmac are found on the island of Newfoundland. They are descended from Algonkian hunter-gatherers whose homeland included what is now Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, part of New Brunswick, and the Gaspé peninsula. The largest Micmac community is Conne River in Bay d'Espoir on the island's south coast. Conne River is a reserve recognized by the federal government and its people are represented by the Miawpukek Band Council. Other people of Micmac descent live in central Newfoundland and on the west coast of the island. They are represented by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.

The Beothuk were the aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland. They were Algonkian-speaking hunter-gatherers who once occupied most of the island. As a result of a complex mix of factors, the Beothuk became extinct in 1829 when Shanawdithit, the last known Beothuk, died in St. John's.

©1997, Ralph T. Pastore
Archaeology Unit & History Department
Memorial University of Newfoundland


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