The remains of two Beothuk people that had been kept in a Scottish museum are coming home.
The National Museums Scotland announced an agreement has been reached with the Canadian government to transfer the remains.
The remains, two skulls, belong to a Beothuk husband and wife named Nonosabasut and Demasduit from Red Indian Lake in central Newfoundland.
The remains have been at the museum since the 1850s.
It is believed that the Beothuk people of what is now called Newfoundland and Labrador have been extinct since 1829.
The decision to transfer the remains was made by the Board of Trustees of National Museums Scotland following an official request from the Canadian government last year, and has been given approval by the Scottish government.
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“We are pleased to have reached this agreement and to be able to transfer the remains of these two Beothuk people to the country where they lived and were buried,” said Dr. Gordon Rintoul, the director of the National Museums Scotland in a press release.
“Following careful consideration in line with our Human Remains in Collections Policy, the board approved the request and we have subsequently sought and now received the required approval from the Scottish Government. We have informed the Canadian Government and the Canadian Museum of History and are now making arrangements to transfer the remains.”
John Paul of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chief Secretariat says the remains will be treated through ceremony once they return.
John Paul, executive director with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chief Secretariat, an advocacy organization for Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy and Innu communities, couldn’t be happier.
“It’s very good news that they finally heard our voices in the wilderness basically to actually listen,” says Paul.
“It is a positive undertaking on behalf of the museum and I think that [the remains] will be treated through ceremony when they’re brought back.”
Paul was unaware of the news until APTN informed him.
Miawpukek Chief Mi’sel Joe has been instrumental in the effort to have the Beothuk remains returned to Canada.
Misel Joe, the chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community located at Conne River, could not be reached by phone, but has been instrumental in fighting for the return of these remains and even travelling to Scotland on several occasions.
“Misel Joe from Newfoundland has been working on this for a number of years with the provinces, with the federal government and directly with the museum,” says Paul.
Watch Todd Lamirande’s APTN Investigates episode ‘Extinction Event’ here.
The National Museums Scotland, located in Edinburgh, is regarded as one of the leading museum groups in the United Kingdom and Europe that looks after collections of national and international importance.
No mention of funeral objects associated with burial to be repatriated
In November 2017, a formal request was made by the federal government to have the remains repatriated but a spokesperson with the department of Canadian Heritage wrote that the delay was because specific requirements were needed to complete the formal request.
A provincial spokesperson with the government of Newfoundland said at the time the request was complex based on the fact that there are no genealogical descendants that can represent the interests of Demasduit and Nonosabasut.
William Epps Cormack, the son of a Scottish merchant, stole the skulls and burial objects in 1827 and gave them to his mentor to be included in the collection at the University of Museum in Edinburgh, now called the National Museums Scotland.
According to a press release by the National Museums Scotland, the remains of two Beothuk people will be repatriated, but the release does not mention the funeral objects associated with the remains.
APTN asked the National Museums Scotland what will become of those items and was told by a spokesperson that “it is not our current policy to consider transfer of items in the collection outside of the category of human remains.”
The spokesperson also stated the two Beothuk remains will be handed over to a representative from the Canadian Museum of History, and are currently discussing arrangements to make this happen.
Not only are museums housing numerous Indigenous human remains and artifacts, but universities are too.
APTN Investigates reported hundreds of human remains ranging from small bones fragments to complete skeletons and some from as far back as the ninth century held at universities across Canada.
Many of those human remains have been with the universities since the 1920s and are stored in plastic bins, wooden trays to even cardboard boxes.