Shanawdithit, the last known survivor of the Beothuk of Newfoundland, is being honoured with a plaque unveiled Thursday that recognizes her as a person of national historic significance.


Shanawdithit, who was likely born in 1801 and is believed to be the subject of the above painting, revealed much of what is known about the Beothuk people before her death in 1829. ((CBC))

Shanawdithit died in 1829 in St. John's several years after she was taken into captivity. By the early 1820s, the population of the Beothuk— beset by diseases, starvation and a withdrawal from traditional hunting grounds— had dwindled to just a few people.

Shanawdithit, while living with writer and explorer William Epps Cormack, revealed much of what is now known about the Beothuk, who had been called Red Indians by settlers because of the ochre they put on their bodies.

Theplaque wasrevealedThursday afternoon at a ceremonyat Bannerman Park in St. John's.

Ingeborg Marshall, an anthropologist who has written defining works on Beothuk culture, said the honour is deserved.


A plaque recognizing Shanawdithit was unveiled Thursday in Bannerman Park. ((CBC))

"We not only honour Shanawdithit as a representative of Newfoundland's aboriginal population, but also as a woman who by virtue of her personality left a lasting impression on the people around her, and whose name has since become a household word in Newfoundland," Marshall told several dozen people who attended the ceremony.

Dave Taylor, a manager with Parks Canada, said Shanawdithit's drawings and sketchings have illuminated what is known about the Beothuk.

"She was also very skilled in conveying the structure and form of the language… [She gave us] the whole portfolio of what the Beothuk language was," Taylor said.


'History is history. We can dwell on it, and we can live in it, but that's what it is - history,' says Conne River chief Misel Joe. ((CBC))

Aboriginal leaders attended the ceremony. Misel Joe, chief of the Conne River Mi'kmaq band, said it's important to recognize Beothuk history, but not to be overwhelmed by the tragedy of a people's disappearance.

"History is history. We can dwell on it, and we can live in it, but that's what it is— history. Let's move on to something that's more positive," he said.

"If nothing more, [this] brings people together, and [we] have a better understanding of where we are coming from as aboriginal people."

Parks Canada has not yet determined where the plaque will be permanently installed.