Scotland to return Native American skulls to Canada

Two Native American skulls are to be sent back to Canada from Scotland - nearly 200 years after they were taken from their graves.

The National Museum of Scotland has agreed to return two Native American skulls from Edinburgh to Canada.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has agreed to return the remains of two of the last members of the Beothuk tribe in Newfoundland.

The Canadian Government had asked for the return of the skulls and burial objects of tribe chief Nonosabasut, who was believed to have been murdered by British officers in 1819, and his wife Demasduit, who died of tuberculosis the following year.

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The transfer, which has been approved by the Scottish Government, will see the remains relocated to the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.

Scots-Canadian explorer William Cormack removed the remains from the graves in 1828 and sent them to Edinburgh University professor Robert Jameseon, his mentor.

The collection, which also include a model birch bark canoe, two birch bark dishes, and a birch bark drinking cup, was subsequently transferred into the collection of the National Museum several decades later.

Native American campaigners have previously visited Edinburgh to meet museum officials and see the skulls, which were not on public display, but were held in its collection centre on the city’s waterfront.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also visited the museum, the busiest visitor attraction in Scotland, personally on 2017.

Dwight Ball, premier of Newfoundland, said: "The news that we are one step closer to the repatriation of the Beothuk remains held by National Museum of Scotland is tremendously significant – for Indigenous communities, for our province and for Canada.

"Through tremendous partnership and perseverance, we can restore these remains to their rightful home, reflect on what has been lost, and be hopeful about what can be gained through reconciliation, and by honouring Indigenous culture."

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the museum, said: “We’re 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.

“The board of trustees received a request from the Canadian Government in July 2018 to transfer the remains of two Beothuk people, Nonosabasut and Demasduit, to the Canadian Museum of History.

“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’ve informed the Canadian Government and the Canadian Museum of History and are now making arrangements to transfer the remains.”

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I’m pleased that the National Museum and the Canadian Government have reached an agreement for the transfer of the Beothuk human remains from Scotland to Canada and I have given the required legal approval to that transfer.

“I would like to thank the board of trustees of National Museums Scotland for reaching such a positive outcome on this important manner.”

Councillors voted three years ago to return a Maori war flag from Hawick to New Zealand after an approach from museum officials and descendants of “key parties” involved in the Battle of Omaruhakeke in 1865.

In 1999, a relic believed to have been worn by a Sioux warrior killed in the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre was returned to South Dakota after being on public display for more than a century at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.