Disappointed with story on Beothuk

Published on April 11, 2013

I am very disappointed with your article “Beothuk not extinct,” April 6, particularly with the coverage you have given it with a large front-page illustration.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion but to present it in your paper without reservations is contrary to sound reporting.

The Beothuk were a distinct cultural group with their own language, belief system and ways of life. Though they may have shared some of these with other native groups or tribes, they were nevertheless a unique ethnic and cultural entity.

Even if a few Beothuk were absorbed by the Mi’kmaq, after six generations or more, with no new Beothuk “blood” infusion, the percentage of Beothuk gene material in today’s Mi’kmaq offspring would be 1.5 per cent or less. Do you honestly think that this justifies the claim that the “Beothuk (are) not extinct”?

The fact is, the Beothuk culture has disappeared and so have the people.

The investigation of the DNA of Icelanders by Danish scientists, reported in The Telegram several years ago, concluded that a genetic marker in a number of people was of unknown, probably native American origin though it is also found in Asia. It has been speculated that the marker could be Beothuk, and it might be, but until a full, scientific Beothuk DNA study has been completed, we will not know.

The study, initiated by the Beothuk Institute, is in the hands of a team of geneticists at MUN and McMaster Universities, and a specialist on isotopic work, also at MUN. Several samples have been taken and initial tests and other preparatory work have been done, in part financed by donations made at the Boyd’s Cove Interpretation Centre and a small Newfoundland government grant.

But funding for the major DNA study and a comparison with genetic material from other native groups, including Mi’kmaq, has not yet been obtained. Several applications with appropriate agencies, submitted over a number of years, were turned down, though we are hoping that our latest attempt will finally be successful. Until we have received the necessary financial support the study remains in abeyance.

Ingeborg Marshall

Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s