Maritime Mi’kmaq community mourns loss of Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy
Published Friday, December 1, 2017 8:25PM AST
Across the Maritimes and beyond, the Mi’kmaq people are mourning the loss of Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, who passed away in hospital on Thursday.
Whether he was with fellow dignitaries or spending time with children, Sylliboy is being remembered as a leader comfortable in all aspects of a role that stretched from Labrador to the northeastern United States.
"It's a really big loss for the nation as a whole,” says Marley Googoo, regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“Not just as a friend. He was from my community, as well."
Sylliboy was from Cape Breton's Waycobah First Nation, where he served on band council for years before becoming grand chief.
Today, flags flew at half-mast in Mi'kmaq communities across the Maritimes.
"A people's chief, a people's person that you can relate to,” says Jeff Ward of Membertou Heritage Park. “You see pictures of him and the pop and then pictures with kids in the community, and they were just as important."
SyllIboy's legacy is one of bravery, too, for speaking out before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada about his experiences at the residential school in Shubenacadie.
"I'm very thankful to him to have the courage to share that," Googoo says.
Sylliboy had been grand chief since his predecessor, Donald Marshall Senior, passed away in 1991. It was during Marshall's illness in the months leading up to his death that he asked Sylliboy to take over as grand chief on an interim basis.
That interim role would become a permanent position Sylliboy would hold onto for more than 26 years.
"It was a big honour for him to be grand chief and to be recommended by our former grand chief. It was just as much an honour for him, as it was for us in Waycobah," says Googoo.
Funeral plans haven't been finalized, but Googoo says “a lot of people will be attending."
Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy is survived by his wife and two daughters.
He was 76 years old.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Ryan MacDonald.