The Beothuk, the original inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland, were extinct by 1829 as a result of contact with Europeans, disease, malnutrition, conflict with settlers and other Native groups and the disruption of their traditional fishing sites.
The last known Beothuk, a woman named Shanawdithit, died in St. John’s in 1829. The location of her grave is unknown, but the skulls of her aunt and uncle, who was a chief, are currently in a museum in Edinburgh, Scotland, reported CBCNews.
The remains of 22 other Beothuk are in Canadian museums, and aboriginal groups want them returned.
“They’re sacred,” Jenelle Duval, Mi’kmaq, told CBCNews. “They were given to the land, and that’s where they should stay. Yes, they should be returned. Absolutely.”
The Newfoundland Museum in St. John’s used to display the remains of a Beothuk man and child, but they have since been packed away.
Misel Joe, chief of the Mi’kmaq reserve at Conne River in southern Newfoundland, says after years of studying them it’s time to return the remains.
Researchers had been doing DNA studies on them to confirm genetic connections to current aboriginal groups, but funding has run out.
“Study is study, and I understand that,” Joe told CBCNews. “But after all this time, enough is enough. It’s already been done in other parts of Canada.”
The remains of at least 10 Beothuk are being stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but archaeology director David Morrison told CBCNews that repatriation is difficult because there aren’t any known descendants of the Beothuk.
Joe doesn’t think that should matter.
“It’s the respectful and right thing to do, for anyone,” he told CBCNews. “And it shouldn’t hinge on whether there’s Beothuk people or not. It’s just the right thing to do.”