Seeking memories of Beothuk remains exhibited in museum

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Josh Pennell
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A lecturer in anthropology at the University of Edinburgh is looking for people to share their memories of a very specific display that could once be seen in the Newfoundland Museum on Duckworth Street — Beothuk skeletal remains.

John Harries wants to collect impressions of people who remember
seeing a display of skeletal remains of a Beothuk woman and child at the old Newfoundland Museum on Duckworth Street. —Submitted photo

John Harries has been studying for years how the Beothuk are remembered in contemporary Newfoundland. When he heard about the Beothuk remains of an adult and child that were found in Green Bay in 1886 and put on display in the museum, he wanted to learn more about this particular find.

“I wanted to reconstruct the story of what happened to these remains. How they were displayed, looked at and taken off display, etcetera, etcetera.”

Harries discovered the archival material pertaining to the museum on Duckworth Street was quite thin, so he thought of another way to find material on the subject.

“Inviting members of the public to approach me with their own memories of visiting the old Newfoundland Museum on Duckworth Street in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s and in particular what they remember of seeing the Beothuk remains on display,” he says.

Harries has already heard from more than 30 people who have given their account of seeing the displayed remains.

Harries wants to know how they were exhibited and how viewers felt about the remains when they saw them.

“I think it was that encounter with dead people that provoked a mixture of surprise, sometimes a bit of shock, and quite a bit of sympathy. People felt a strong sense of sympathy or kind of connection with these people in encountering their human remains on display,” Harries says.

The remains are no longer on display and Harries thinks they are now safely being cared for by the province. He’s still forming an idea of what to do with the memories he collects though he says collecting the stories of these remains will contribute to the broader story of how people here remember the Beothuk. His research will also contribute to conversations around the politics and ethics of dealing with indigenous remains, he says.

Anybody with memories of the Beothuk skeletal remains can contact Harries via email at j.harries@ed.ac.uk.

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