Go to STV News

Museum urged to return body of Beothuk chief to Canada

The remains of the man and his wife were taken from Newfoundland 200 years ago.

By STV News

Published 02 Jun 2017.

The Canadian government will ask the National Museum of Scotland to return the bodies of two native people stolen 200 years ago.

The remains of the Beothuk chief and and his wife were taken from their graves and sent to Edinburgh by an explorer the 1820s.

Indigenous groups have demanded their return and the Canadian heritage minister has now said she intends to make a formal request.

A National Museum of Scotland spokeswoman said: "Minister Melanie Joly has notified us of the intention to formally request repatriation.

"We have been happy to provide all materials and information that the Canadian government has required and are continuing a constructive dialogue with the government and its civil servants."

A spokesman for the Department of Canadian Heritage said it is working with indigenous communities to establish the basis for a formal request.

Chief Mi'sel Joe, of the Miawpukek First Nation, has led calls for the return of the remains since 2015.

He told Canada's CBC News: "The claim I'm making is not an aboriginal claim. It's a claim for Newfoundland.

"They were stolen from Newfoundland, they belong to us and they should be brought back."

Chief Nonosbawsut was killed trying to rescue his wife, Demasduit, from European soldiers in 1819.

She later died of tuberculosis and they were buried together in 1820.

Several years later the Scots-Canadian explorer William Cormack found their graves near Red Indian Lake in Newfoundland and removed their remains.

They were sent to Edinburgh University in 1828 and later became part of the NMS collection.

It is unclear whether or not the chief and his wife's bodies were ever put on public display.

Last year, a Maori skull held in a Scottish museum's collection for 130 years was returned to New Zealand.