DNA deep­ens mys­tery of lost Beothuk peo­ple in New­found­land

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - IVAN SEMENIUK

Inge­borg Marshall still re­mem­bers the day, 18 years ago, when she was pre­sented with a sin­gle strand of hair clipped from Shanawdithit, the last known mem­ber of the Beothuk, the now-van­ished In­dige­nous peo­ple of New­found­land.

The hair had ap­par­ently been passed down for gen­er­a­tions by the fam­ily of a doc­tor who saw Shanawdithit be­fore she died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in a St. John’s hospi­tal in 1829. For Ms. Marshall, an an­thro­pol­o­gist and author­ity on the grim his­tory of the Beothuk, the un­usual heir­loom sparked an in­trigu­ing ques­tion: Would it be pos­si­ble to ex­tract DNA from such a sam­ple and de­code the ge­netic his­tory of New­found­land’s pre-Euro­pean in­hab­i­tants?

Ms. Marshall soon learned that a piece of cut hair with­out its root would not pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion she sought. But the lon­grun­ning sci­en­tific quest she em­barked on then has now borne sur­pris­ing fruit.

In a study co-au­thored by Ms. Marshall and pub­lished on Thurs­day in the jour­nal Cur­rent Bi­ol­ogy, re­searchers have, for the first time, man­aged to se­quence DNA re­trieved from the re­mains of sev­eral Beothuk in­di­vid­u­als along with those from an older, pre­his­toric cul­ture that ex­isted in New­found­land thou­sands of years ear­lier.

The re­sults sug­gest the two groups are not closely re­lated. In fact, the Beothuk are so ge­net­i­cally un­like the peo­ple that pre­ceded them that their last com­mon an­ces­tor prob­a­bly lived 10,000 years ago, when hu­mans were first spread­ing across the Amer­i­cas.

» White House of­fi­cials did not men­tion any specifics about a shootout in their pub­lic state­ments.

Mean­time, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump claimed his new­found clout with Pak­istan had led to the hostage re­lease, while his chief of staff, John Kelly, was am­bigu­ous, say­ing only that his govern­ment and Pak­istan worked to­gether as “part­ners.”

“Thank God that the Pak­istani of­fi­cials have – took them into cus­tody, so to speak, from the forces of evil in that part of the world,” he said.

The fed­eral govern­ment said Canada helped achieve a res­o­lu­tion. “Canada has been ex­tremely ac­tively en­gaged in this case for the past five years,” For­eign Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land told re­porters in Mex­ico City, where she was en­gaged in free-trade ne­go­ti­a­tions. She added: “No ran­som was paid. Canada has been very clear that we do not be­lieve in pay­ing ran­soms.”

The Haqqani net­work is for­mally des­ig­nated in the United States and Canada as a ter­ror­ist group – an overt dec­la­ra­tion that any di­rect deal­ings with the group ought to be con­sid­ered off the ta­ble for any­one in North Amer­ica. Such des­ig­na­tions ex­ist to help fed­eral of­fi­cials seize as­sets, or fa­cil­i­tate fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions against any­one who helps the group in any ma­te­rial way.

A no­to­ri­ous and pow­er­ful clan of armed mil­i­tants, the Haqqani net­work has footholds on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pak­istan border. Formed dur­ing the 1980s Afghan fight against the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion, the Haqqa­nis aligned with the Tal­iban as it took over Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The group has close ties to Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence, ac­cord­ing to se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

Late Thurs­day, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that Mr. Boyle re­fused to board a U.S. trans­port plane out­bound from Pak­istan, for fear he would be taken into cus­tody by the U.S. govern­ment for his past con­nec­tion to a no­to­ri­ous Cana­dian fam­ily.

In the late 2000s, Mr. Boyle was mar­ried to Zaynab Khadr, the sis­ter of Omar Khadr, a Cana­dian cit­i­zen held in Guan­tanamo Bay for more than a decade. The cou­ple di­vorced in 2010.

Mr. Boyle’s hes­i­ta­tion to board a U.S. plane amounted to a last­minute wrin­kle in a saga that has been play­ing out be­hind the scenes for half a decade as mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ments have grap­pled with pos­si­ble so­lu­tions.

In 2013, a Pen­tagon group headed by a for­mer spe­cial forces of­fi­cer, Ja­son Amer­ine, was as­signed to de­velop op­tions to free a cap­tive Amer­i­can sol­dier.

That sol­dier was freed in an ap­par­ent pris­oner swap with the Tal­iban. But Mr. Amer­ine has since gone pub­lic with an ac­count of how his mis­sion had once mor­phed into talk of a “one-for-seven” deal that would have swapped seven West­ern­ers for one Tal­iban war­lord.

Mr. Boyle, Ms. Cole­man and an­other Cana­dian were part of th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions, Mr. Amer­ine has said. So was an­other Cana­dian – Colin Ruther­ford – who was cap­tured in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances to Mr. Boyle’s be­fore be­ing re­leased in 2016. At the time, the newly elected Lib­eral govern­ment thanked Qatar for bro­ker­ing a deal.

On Thurs­day, Pa­trick Boyle told the Toronto Star he re­ceived a phone call from his son af­ter his re­lease. Joshua Boyle re­layed that he and his fam­ily were freed while trav­el­ling in the trunk of a car driven by his ab­duc­tors. He says he heard gun­shots as the ab­duc­tors were killed in a shootout with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary.

Speak­ing to The Globe and Mail on Thurs­day, Pak­istan’s High Com­mis­sioner to Canada, Tariq Azim Khan, also said the res­cue ef­fort in­volved a shootout. “With­out know­ing the full de­tails, I un­der­stand there was an op­er­a­tion and there was a shoot­ing. … How many of them were killed? I’m not aware at the mo­ment,” Mr. Khan said.


A still from a video posted by the Tal­iban on so­cial me­dia on Dec. 19, 2016, shows Amer­i­can Cait­lan Cole­man, left, speak­ing next to her Cana­dian hus­band, Joshua Boyle, and their two sons. The cou­ple has since had a daugh­ter who was born within the past few weeks.

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