When I find one of Shanawdithit’s archived drawings I experience a necessary discomfort.
I go back to my childhood.
All my young life I hear the mythologizing, how she was the last of the Beothuk people. Ten minutes outside my hometown, the provincial Beothuk Interpretation Centre is a place I visit quite frequently as a child. There’s a walking trail, on which I come across a statue of Shanawdithit and the remnants of a 300-year-old settlement. There are crosses that mark graves. My parents teach me that history shouldn’t have been written “this way.”
From this drawing I read memories, encounters, connections to place. I read loss and resistance. I do not read silence.
I know that mythology is also about evolvement – how we get to here from there.
As she “transferred her talent for constructing detailed patterns on bone and bark to the European medium of paper,” (Polack 2013: para 9) Shanawdithit’s drawings opened up a past that cannot be erased, and none of us can overlook or forget colonial encounters and mediations in Newfoundland and Labrador because of them.
Polack, Fiona. 2013. “Reading Shanawdithit’s Drawings: Transcultural Texts in the North American Colonial World,” In Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 14 (3). DOI: 10.1353/cch.2013.0035.