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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK

World: Americas

End of the line for Ona tribe

The Ona became victims of persecution by 19th century settlers

The last surviving member of an ancient Indian tribe is reported to have died in the far south of Argentina.

Anthropologists believe the 56 year old woman, Virginia Choinquitel, was the last full blooded survivor of the nomadic Ona tribe, that lived for thousands of years on the island of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of the South American continent.

"There are many people of mixed blood but to the best of our knowledge she was the last full-blooded Ona," said local Roman Catholic priest and friend of Ms Choinquitel, Father Jose Zink.

The last Ona man died in 1995.

Historic roots

[ image: The tribe survived by hunting and gathering wild produce]
The tribe survived by hunting and gathering wild produce
The Onas were short and stocky with asiatic facial features. Their roots on Tierra del Fuego can be traced back for 9,000 years.

It is thought that the Ona lived a hunter-gatherer existence and never developed an agricultural system.

They were persecuted and killed by 19th century settlers and many died of diseases brought by the white immigrants.

About 300 Onas were left in 1965, when the government carried-out the last census of native populations, but by 1970 that number is thought to have dropped to just 10.

Ms Choinquitel herself was orphaned at the age of four and was raised by nuns before being taken to the capital Buenos Aires, where she married and set up home with an Italian immigrant.

After he died, the town council of Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego offered her a pension and a home where she lived until her death on Wednesday.

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