The Mi’kmaw Nation is mourning a well-respected Elder and statesman.
Ben Sylliboy, Kji-Saqmaw (Grand Chief) of the traditional Mi’kmaw Grand Council, died Thursday afternoon. He was 76.
“He died peacefully,” said his nephew Tiny Cremo. “He got a lot of prayers, everyone was there.”
Cremo said Sylliboy’s health had been failing in the last few years. His uncle died in hospital, surrounded by family and friends.
Sylliboy was born in We’koqma’q, N.S., and was a residential school survivor. He spoke to APTN in 2015 about that experience.
“As soon as they heard you talking or even talking to other students in Micmac, you would be punished,” he said of his traditional language.
But the Kji-Sagmaw would keep his language, offering prayers in Mi’kmaq at events like annual Treaty Day celebrations.
Sylliboy made a life-long commitment to the Mi’kmaw Nation. He was part of an Elder`s project by the Atlantic Policy Congress that honoured traditional knowledge-holders.
His biography describes him as holding strong to the vision that the Mi’kmaq should one day determine themselves, rather than under the Canadian government.
It praised his humility and understanding of the Mi’kmaq people.
Condolences to the family were pouring in on social media.
The Grand Chief (Ben Sylliboy)of the Mi’kmaw Nation has passed on to the Spirit World this afternoon, I had the honour of being in his presence at Treaty Day when I took this picture. 💔 R.I.P Uncle Ben pic.twitter.com/tfBhAqq9st
— Graham Marshall (@grahamcmarshall) November 30, 2017
My condolences to the Sylliboy family for the passing of our Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy. He was surrounded by family & friends. He was the leader of the Mi’kmaq Nation & he will truly be missed.
I was lucky enough to call him my Elder & friend, nemultis nitap.#Mikmaq #GrandChief pic.twitter.com/q035CpvGaf
— Trevor © (@TSanipass) November 30, 2017
Cremo said Sylliboy leaves a legacy as Kji-Saqmaw on the traditional governing body for the Mi`kmaq Nation. He took over the position from the late Donald Marshall Sr., more than two decades ago.
But to Cremo, he was a soft-spoken uncle and neighbour in the small Mi’kmaw community in Cape Breton. Someone who was dedicated, quiet, but also stern.
“He was a diehard Montreal Fan,” Cremo said with a laugh. “He loved wrestling. He just lived a normal, modest life as a Mi’kmaw.”