For a few former elementary students, the pending return of the remains of Demasduit and her husband Nonosabusut to Canada has been a long time coming.
Twelve years ago, Anne Warr’s Grade 2 class at Woodland Primary collectively wrote a book called “The Mammoth Bakeapple” to remember and learn about the Beothuk peoples of Newfoundland. Last week, they re-launched their book, but with a new goal.
“It does my heart so good to see this,” said Vanda Martin of the Exploits Valley Aboriginal Group, a few members of which attended the re-launch at the Harmsworth Library Feb. 18. “We’re all in this together, and it says a lot that non-Indigenous people care about Indigenous people.”
Warr’s and her former students’ goal is to raise money to fund a statue of Demasduit, Nonosabusut, and their infant who died a few days after Demasduit was captured and Nonosabusut was killed at Red Indian Lake in 1819. The statue would be destined for the banks of the Exploits River, near Nonosabusut Rock, a landmark Warr’s Grade 2 class had a hand in putting on the map. Sculptor Morgan MacDonald is even interested in being involved.
“I am feeling fantastic,” Warr said after the event, which drew 30 or so people.
For her, the interest in the Beothuk people and this family in particular came about in 2002 when she first started working at Woodland Primary and had come across a report that objected to the changing of Desmasduit’s name to Mary March. Warr introduced the subject to her students and a few years later, her class was not only writing a book, but writing letters to the Scottish Government asking for the remains to be returned to this province.
“I thought it was all over,” Warr said. “But not until the remains are brought back.”
Four students from that original Grade 2 class were able to attend, and while they were proud of their youthful endeavours, they credited Warr as the driving force behind the project.
“I don’t think at the time I understood,” said Carter Kenny. “But being exposed to it at such a young age made me start thinking about what everybody should be thinking about.”
Don Pelley is a former outfitter and First Nations man who has been involved in archaeology projects along the Exploits River for decades, “from Red Indian Lake all the way to salt water.”
He wants to see the remains of Demasduit and Nonosabusut reinterred as close to their original reported burial site at Red Indian Lake as possible.
“They shouldn’t have been taken in the first place,” he told The Central Voice. “That’s grave robbing, as far as I’m concerned.”
Come spring melt, Pelley said he hopes to join a provincial archaeologist to look for that burial site, which he believes is along the northwest side of the lake. He admitted it’s possible the site has been washed away, with the construction of the dam in the early 20th century and subsequent rise in water level.