The remains of two Beothuk, Nonosabasut and Demasduit, have successfully been repatriated from Scotland to Newfoundland and Labrador, the place of their origin.
The transfer was arranged with National Museums Scotland by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. The remains were transported through a careful and respectful process and transferred into the care of The Rooms in St. John’s.
The repatriation of the remains represents a significant achievement in the long-running effort to return the Beothuk remains to the province. Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe of Miawpukek First Nation advocated for the return of the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit in 2015 and called on the cooperation of National Museums Scotland and the Provincial Government.
The Provincial Government acknowledges and appreciates the efforts of the Federal Government and National Museums Scotland to secure the return of the remains from Scotland. Government also commends the advocacy and leadership of Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe and the support of the Nunatsiavut Government, Innu Nation, Qalipu First Nation, and NunatuKavut Community Council for their collective efforts and leadership.
The Provincial Government advises that the remains will stay at The Rooms until a decision on their final resting place is reached in consultation with the five Indigenous Leaders.
“I am extremely pleased that through perseverance and the spirit of Reconcilation, our government and the Indigenous Governments and Organizations have been successful in our efforts to return the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit to their rightful home. By partnering with the Federal Government and Indigenous Leaders, we have achieved an important repatriation to commemorate the Beothuk.”
Honourable Dwight Ball
Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador
“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I am grateful that the remains of Beothuk Demasduit and her husband Nonosabasut have come home to Canada. We understand how important these remains are to the Indigenous people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and we are pleased to have been able to support their efforts. I thank National Museums Scotland, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Indigenous communities involved for their invaluable contributions throughout this process.”
Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Canadian Heritage
“The voluntary repatriation of our brother, Nonosabasut, and our sister, Demasduit, has not only given Indigenous people closure, it has also given the people of our province closure. It signifies the end of exile for our Beothuk ancestors, who will finally receive the respect and honour they deserve by being returned home, and home is where their story began.”
Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe
Miawpukek First Nation
“We honour the return of Tshiashinnut Numushum Nonosabasut and Nukum Demasduit. Tonight, as the moon rises in Newfoundland and Labrador, the souls of our grandparents will be reunited with their Beothuk family. We mourn the time that has been taken from them and it is with appreciation that we will respectfully stand in their presence to welcome them home. Innu Nation acknowledges Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe, Premier Dwight Ball, the Canadian Museum of History, The Rooms and particularly National Museums of Scotland for this important voluntary repatriation.”
Grand Chief Gregory Rich
“The events leading up to the tragic deaths of Nonosabasut and Demasduit, and the subsequent partial removal of their remains from their gravesites, will forever be a dark chapter in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. The repatriation of their remains is significant for all Indigenous peoples in Newfoundland and Labrador, as it provides hope that others whose remains have been taken away from their homelands for the purpose of academic research will someday find rest and peace.”
“Today, we are honouring the Beothuk. We remember them with the return of Nonosabasut and Demasduit to the place they called home. Their story is an important part of all of our history. And while it’s a stark reminder of the tragic and horrific effects of colonialism, it provides us with an opportunity to take stock of the present and continuing colonial policies. It is a call for us all to work harder to be more diligent to learn from the past. Such policies must find no expression today or in the future. I commend Chief Mi’sel Joe for his tenacity in ensuring that the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit were returned. I acknowledge the leadership of Premier Ball, his government, the Government of Canada and the cooperation of Indigenous groups in this province for making it happen. This is a historic day.”
President, NunatuKavut Community Council
“The spirit of the Beothuk people is part of this land, and part of our shared history in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is with a sigh of relief that I, alongside the Indigenous Leaders of the province who came together to bring them home, see the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit returned to their ancestral territory. This is an event of historical and cultural significance, a marker of true reconciliation. I thank Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe for leading this effort and Premier Dwight Ball for inviting us to work together on this initiative at the first Indigenous Leaders Roundtable. To all those who made this possible, Wela’lioq, M’sit No’kmaq.”
Chief Brendan Mitchell
Qalipu First Nation
“I am very pleased that the Beothuk remains of Demasduit and her husband Nonosabasut have come home to Newfoundland and Labrador. Our government believes that reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples can only be achieved when we acknowledge our country’s dark history and continue to work with our Indigenous partners on a path forward together.”
MP, Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame
– 30 –
Population and Identity – The Beothuk
Office of the Premier
Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe
Miawpukek First Nation
NunatuKavut Community Council
Office of MP Scott Simms
Grand Falls-Windsor, NL
Information on the Beothuk and the repatriation of the remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit
The Beothuk were an Indigenous people who lived in Newfoundland. The remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit were removed from their resting place at Red Indian Lake in the 1820s and became part of the Industrial Museum of Scotland (today’s National Museums Scotland) in the 1850s.
The 1829 death of a Beothuk woman, Shawnadithit, marked the end of the Beothuk as a people and a culture in the province.
The province acted on calls by Saqamaw Mi’sel Joe and requested repatriation of the remains from National Museums Scotland. National Museums Scotland advised the Province that such a request had to satisfy three conditions, as follows: The request must be made a national government; the request must have the support of a national museum; and the request must be supported by a community descended from the original Indigenous people.
As there is no recognized community that is descended from the Beothuk, the province brought together the Leaders of the five Indigenous Governments and Organizations at the first-ever Indigenous Leaders Roundtable in 2017 to make this a priority. The five Leaders signed a declaration to support the repatriation.
The province engaged the Federal Government and received confirmation from Canadian Heritage of its willingness to take leadership on the request and enter into discussions with National Museums Scotland.
An important step was achieved in January of 2019 when National Museums Scotland announced an agreement had been reached with the Federal Government to transfer the remains of the Beothuk to Canada.