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Newfoundland First Nation to study genetic links with ancient Beothuk

Mary March, also known by her Indigenous name as Demasduit, one of the last Beothuk, is shown in this painting by Lady Hamilton. The remains of two people from a now-extinct Newfoundland First Nation will be returned to Canada after being held in Scotland for almost two centuries.
Mary March, also known by her Indigenous name as Demasduit, one of the last Beothuk, is shown in this painting by Lady Hamilton. The remains of two people from a now-extinct Newfoundland First Nation will be returned to Canada after being held in Scotland for almost two centuries. THE CANADAIN PRESS/HO-Library and Archives Canada

A Newfoundland First Nation has announced a study of genetic links between its members and ancient Indigenous inhabitants of the island, including the Beothuk people.

Miawpukek First Nation announced the study this month, to be done in partnership with Terra Nova Genomics, Inc. and funded by a National Geographic Explorer’s grant of US$30,000.

READ MORE: Rare DNA quirk could reveal mysteries of Newfoundland’s first settlers

Chief Mi’Sel Joe says the study offers an opportunity to compare oral stories that trace family histories back to the Beothuk – widely thought to be extinct – with scientific evidence.

Researchers plan to begin looking at DNA testing kits from a sample group of 20 people, eventually expanding to assess samples from as many volunteers as possible.

Genetics professor Steven Carr with Terra Nova Genomics says the study is the largest of its kind with an Indigenous group in Canada.

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READ MORE: Remains of two Beothuk people to be returned to Canada

Testing is set to begin in January and Carr says it may be a year or more before findings are ready for publication.