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 two daughters and his wife, Marie.
Sylliboy was a “humble” and “hard-working” man who was beloved in his 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, Googoo said.
‘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,” said Paul in a statement.
“My sincerest condolences are sent to the Sylliboy family. May they find healing in the impact that he has made.”
According to a biography posted on the website of the Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, Sylliboy was elected as an Indian Act band councillor in Waycobah in 1970 and served in that position for nine terms.
In 1992, Grand Chief Donald Marshall was ill and asked that Sylliboy take on the role of interim grand chief, which is a position he held from then until now.
“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,” said the biography.
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.