MILLERTOWN, NL – A large group gathered at Indian Point National Historic Site near Millertown Oct.27 for the unveiling of plaque commissioned by Parks Canada’s Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
Everyone was excited for the event, which was a long time coming.
Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame MP Scott Simms represented Catherine McKenna, minister responsible for Parks Canada, at the unveiling.
He called the plaque “a symbol of recognition and celebration of Canadian heritage.
“This is an opportunity to bring people together to create new connections between Indigenous peoples in Canada and non-Indigenous Canadians.”
According to Parks Canada, the plaque commemorates the presence and lifestyle of the Beothuk, who inhabited the shores of Red Indian Lake during the winter months for seasonal hunting.
Emcee Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson, NL representative for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, introduced guests including Simms, the Exploits Native Women’s Association, the 1st Buchans Girl Guides, the Buchans Patrol Junior Canadian Rangers, Qalipu First Nation band manager Keith Goulding and Red Indian Lake Heritage Society president Teresa Greene.
The ceremony began with the Exploits Native Women’s Association drumming and singing the “Mi’Kmaq Honour Song,” followed by the national anthem sung by the Buchans Girl Guides.
“The unveiling of this plaque indicates to all Canadians the significance of the Beothuk who inhabited our province,” said Lewis-Simpson. “It is important that we share their story, which is at the core of the heritage and culture of our province and an essential part of our nation’s history.”
The History Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is comprised of representatives from every province and territory, including professional staff who assist the board in researching and evaluating the many proposals that come each year from all over Canada recognizing the historical significance of particular places, people and events.
According to the board, Indian Point is an example of a camp where the Beothuk wintered in well-built, multi-sided mamateeks.
In the fall, families left the seacoast and assembled here to hunt caribou using extensive drive systems of fences along the lakeshore and the Exploits River, keeping the meat in storage huts.
Occupied for many generations, this site was abandoned around 1820 by the Beothuk, whose population was by then greatly reduced.
Indian Point is among the best-documented Beothuk sites, first recorded by John Cartwright in 1768, followed by Shanawdithit in 1829, and archaeologists in the 20th century.
Lewis-Simpson acknowledged the Red Indian Lake Heritage Society, Beothuk Institute, Dr. Ingeborg Marshall, Albert Taylor, Jerry Penney, and the late Ken Reynolds of the provincial archeology office, for their diligence.
Simms acknowledged the ceremony was held on the traditional territory of the Beothuk and Mi’Kmaq peoples on the shores of Red Indian Lake. He also thanked Teresa Greene, president of the Red Indian Lake Heritage Society and other volunteer members for their commitment and dedication in caring for this unique site.
“Teresa has been an incredible advocate for this over the years and she deserves a lot of credit.”
Keith Goulding, manager of Qalipu Mi’Kmaq First Nation, remarked on the view of relations between the Beothuk and Mi’Kmaq he learned in school.
“(The history books) taught me a little different story,” Goulding said, “but the oral traditions are that we met on these plains and these beaches and we lived together in this area.
“It is important that we come together and mark this important territory in this significant event today.”
Greene recounted many of the details known about the history of the Beothuk, their way of life and traditions. She spoke of the interaction with the Europeans who at first came to the area on a seasonal basis and later year-round, and how it led to the eventual demise of their people.
Archeologists have discovered artifacts in the area that are both pre-contact and historic, and these help “give us the story of the Beothuk” she said.
Damming the lake and industry has destroyed a lot of the sites through erosion and rising and falling water levels, she said, so it was like “the end of the Beothuk all over again.”
“Let us protect what is left of this special place,” Greene said.
The plaque was unveiled by Greene, Lewis-Simpson, Goulding and Simms. Text on the plaque was read by JCRs Noel Rowsell and Mequila Lafitte. Guides sang “Land of the Silver Birch” and the Exploits Native Women’s Association drummed the “Mi’Kmaq Prayer Song.”
Lewis-Simpson noted her daughter is learning about the Beothuk in Grade 5.
“So although we can’t really change the past,” she said, “we can perhaps shape the future as we go forward in this place.”
The Indian Point site was originally designated as a National Historic Site in 1978, but the plaque wasn’t made available until now.
Those attending were pleased to see the plaque unveiled and see its great value for the area.
“I’m hoping it will be a good marketing (tool),” Greene says. “It’s been my mission to get (Parks Canada) to get the plaque and say, ‘this is what it is.’ We really should take care of (the site) and I think the plaque helps you do that.”
Millertown Mayor Barbara Sheppard agrees. She hopes it will attract more tourism to the area.
“At least now we’ve got something from a tourism perspective, something of interest that we can actually take people to show,” she said.
Simms said the plaque brings a special recognition because now the site will receive more promotion.
“Before it was just word of mouth, where people just knew about Indian Point. But now that Parks Canada has acknowledged it, that goes a long way because we can talk about it and there is money that goes toward the promotion of it.”
The plaque will stay inside for the winter, but come spring, plans will be made to erect it on site at Indian Point, says Ray Kenney, public relations and communications officer with Parks Canada in St John’s.
He says Parks Canada will consult with the Red Indian Lake Heritage Society and between them will decide on the location and backdrop, while being cognizant of protecting the existing historic site.