June 3, 1999

Last of Argentina's Ona Indians dies

                  BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- The last of Argentina's full-blooded Ona
                  Indians has died, ending a 9,000-year history of a tribe that was hounded by
                  settlers and bounty hunters at the tip of South America, authorities said on

                  Virginia Choinquitel, 56, died of a heart attack on Wednesday in Rio
                  Grande, Tierra del Fuego, a priest in the town said.

                  Argentine anthropologist Miguel Angel Palermo told the daily Clarin that the
                  last Ona man died in 1995 and Choinquitel was the last full-blooded Ona

                  Her long-time friend, Roman Catholic priest Father Jose Zink, confirmed
                  that she was the last member of the Ona tribe.

                  "There are many people of mixed blood but to the best of our knowledge
                  she was the last full-blooded Ona," Zink said in a telephone interview with
                  Reuters from his Rio Grande home in Tierra del Fuego.

                  The nomadic Ona people's roots in Tierra del Fuego date back 9,000 years.

                  Its people were short and stocky with Asiatic facial features and were the
                  victims of campaigns by armed settlers intent on exterminating them. By the
                  late 19th century, several missions were established in Tierra del Fuego and
                  nearby islands to protect the remaining survivors.

                  But the ancient tribe continued to be threatened by epidemics and bounty

                  About 300 Ona were left at the time of the most recent government census
                  of the native population taken in 1965 - among them Virginia Choinquitel.

                  By 1970 there were only 10 Onas left in the world, according to Palermo.

                  Although honored by Argentine authorities in her later years, Choinquitel
                  was orphaned at age 4 and was raised by nuns before being adopted and
                  taken to Buenos Aires.

                  Choinquitel married an Italian immigrant and lived on the outskirts of the

                  After he husband died, the municipal government of Rio Grande offered her
                  a pension and a home where she lived until her death Wednesday.