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The Beothuk were the inhabitants of Newfoundland at the time of John Cabot's arrival. They are believed to be descended from the Recent Indians who came to the island around 50 B.C., specifically a sub-group referred to as the Little Passage Complex. They occupied the northeast and south coasts of the island. Initially, they fished the coastal waters and hunted the sea birds and mammals. Later, as they were forced inland, they relied on the available plants and animals for food. One of their distinguishing characteristics was the use of red ochre to decorate their bodies and their possessions, earning the nickname "Red Indians".
Ancestors of the Beothuk, among those referred to in the Norse sagas as "skraelings", had intermittent contact with the Vikings in the early years of the eleventh century. The first Beothuk contact with explorers probably took place in the early 1500s. Although there was some limited trade with the Europeans who came to the island for the fishing season, the Beothuk tended to avoid extended contact. They preferred to scavenge the seasonal fishing camps for items and debris left behind by the fishermen.
A combination of factors led to the extinction of the Beothuk in Newfoundland. Fighting with Europeans, and other Native groups of the Atlantic region, shrank their numbers. Contact with the Europeans brought diseases to which the Beothuk had no natural resistance. As settlement on the island grew more widespread, territory available to the Beothuk decreased. They were forced to retreat to smaller areas inland with fewer available resources. Never very large, the population shrank rapidly; by the early 1800s, it had declined past the point of recovery. Efforts made by the European population to communicate with the few remaining Beothuk proved futile. The last known surviving Beothuk, Shawnadithit, captured in 1824 with the intention of training her as an interpreter, died in 1829 at the approximate age of twenty-three.
The Atlantic region to Confederation : a history. -- Ed. P. A. Buckner and J. G. Reid. -- Fredericton [NB] : Acadiensis Press, 1994. -- 491 p.
Howley, James P. -- The Beothuks, or Red Indians : the Aboriginal inhabitants of Newfoundland. -- New York : AMS Press, 1979. -- 348 p.
Lehr, Genevieve. -- "Beothuk". -- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador. -- Ed. Joseph R. Smallwood. -- St. John's, Nfld. : Newfoundland Book Publishers Ltd., 1967. -- Vol. 1, p. 179-181.
Marshall, Ingeborg. -- A history and ethnography of the Beothuk. -- Montreal : McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996. -- 640 p.
Tuck, James A. -- "Beothuk". -- The Canadian encyclopedia : year 2000 edition. -- Ed. James H. Marsh. -- 3rd print edition. -- Toronto : McClelland & Stewart, 1999. -- P. 224.