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Shawnadithit, the last Beothuk
"Shawnadithit" was the name of the last member of the Beothuk tribe of Newfoundland.
The Beothuk tribe suffered greatly from starvation, tuberculosis, and attacks by white trappers and fishermen,
and by the early 1800's, there were only a few Beothuk families surviving. In 1823, Shawnadithit and two female
relatives were captured by a trapper (her father was killed in the attack.) The other women soon died of tuberculosis;
Shawnadithit was permitted to return to her tribe but found no one there left alive.
With no friends or family remaining, Shawnadithit became a domestic servant in
the white settlement at Exploits, where she lived for six years before dying of tuberculosis herself.
In addition to being the last of her people, Shawnadithit was notable for two other things. First, she learned enough
English before she died to tell the story of the Beothuk tribe for posterity. Shawnadithit's stories and drawings make
up much of what is known about the Beothuk Indians today. Similarly, she became one of the only sources of information
about the Beothuk language.
Second, Shawnadithit played a role in changing the public perception of Native Americans. Despite great personal
hardship, she displayed dignity, intelligence, and charm, forcing many white Canadians to rethink their ideas of
indigenous people as ignorant savages. Shawnadithit remains a poignant symbol of colonization and its tragic effects
in Newfoundland today.
Books about Shawnadithit
The Last of the Beothuk: A Canadian Tragedy:
Biography of Shawnadithit, the last surviving Beothuk Indian woman.
All Gone Widdun:
Historical fiction book about the life of Shawnadithit.
The Ballad of Nancy April: Shawnadithit:
Interesting graphic novel based on Shawnadithit's life, by a First Nations author.
Shanawdithit: Last of the Beothuk:
Another biography of Shawnadithit.
Here are some links to online information about Shawnadithit:
Shawnadithit: Last of the Beothuk
Shawnadithit and the Extinction of the Beothuk
Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Shawnadithit
Shawnadithit, Last of the Beothucks
Interview with Shawnadithit
And here are our webpages about the Beothuk tribe and language:
Shawnadithit and the Beothuks
The Algonquian languages
First Nations of Canada
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