Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Rayboud is flanked by Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, left, and Morley Googoo, regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, at a meeting of Atlantic MPs and First Nations chiefs in Wolfville, N.S., last August. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press) Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, of Waycobah First Nation in Cape Breton, has died. He was 76.
Waycobah Chief Rod Googoo said Sylliboy died peacefully of natural causes on Thursday afternoon at Cape Breton Regional Hospital surrounded by friends and family, including his wife, Marie, and two daughters.
Sylliboy was a "humble" and "hard-working" man who was beloved in the Mi’kmaq community, Googoo said.
He’d been in the hospital for less than a week to be treated for a buildup of fluid in his lung. ‘A caring mentor’
Membertou Chief Terry Paul said the death of Sylliboy is being felt by Mi’kmaq people across Atlantic Canada.
"Grand chief was a caring mentor and had immense influence in moving forward the will of our people. Many of the opportunities that we have today are thanks to the passion of our grand chief," Paul said in a statement.
"My sincerest condolences are sent to the Sylliboy family. May they find healing in the impact that he has made." Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, attends a Mi’kmaq cultural event in Halifax in this June 28, 2010 file photo. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press) Born in Waycobah on March 2, 1941, Sylliboy was sent at age six to the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, N.S., where he would spend four years. He would later contract tuberculosis and spent four years in and out of hospitals.
Sylliboy was elected as an Indian Act band councillor in Waycobah in 1970, serving in that position for nine terms, according to a biography posted on the website of the Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.
In 1992, Grand Chief Donald Marshall was ill and asked Sylliboy to take on the role of interim grand chief, a position he held until his death.
"Throughout the years, Ben [Sylliboy] has seen the Mi’kmaq Grand Council continue to promote the culture and spirituality of the Mi’kmaq. He also has been a part of the renewal of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council role as governing body within the Mi’kmaq that focuses on the recognition and implementation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights," his biography reads.
Even as Sylliboy faced health problems, he still worked tirelessly and continued "to be a respected leader within the Mi’kmaq community," said the biography. ‘A community person’
Mi’kmaq elder Daniel Paul is a distant relative of Sylliboy’s and knew him for more than 40 years.
"He was a community person, he got along with all the people and inspired a lot of people to … be nice to their fellow man," said Paul.
Premier Stephen McNeil also offered his "heartfelt sympathies" to Sylliboy’s family and the Mi’kmaq community.
"Grand Chief Sylliboy was a steadfast leader for his people, a wise mentor, and a highly respected partner in our treaty relationship with the Mi’kmaq," he said in a statement. "His passing is a loss that will be felt across Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region." Premier John Hamm shakes hands with Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy during Mi’kmaq Treaty Day celebrations at the legislature in Halifax on Oct. 1, 2004. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
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