Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy
SYLLIBOY, Kji Saqamaw Ben – Age 76, We’koqma’q First Nation, passed away peacefully surrounded by family and friends on Thursday, November 30, 2017, in Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Sydney. Born in We’koqma’q, Grand Chief was a son of the late William Benjamin and Nancy (Denny) Sylliboy. Surviving are Grand Chief’s loving wife of 49 years, Marie (Sylliboy); daughters, Michelle and Christina "Duce", both of We’koqma’q; sister, Margaret "Magit" Poulette, We’koqma’q; granddaughters, Radney Jean and Kendyl; great-grandson, Karter; brother-in-law, Larry Sylliboy; sisters-in-law, Mildred Narvey, Dorothy Googoo, Sarah Sylliboy and Mary Prosper; numerous nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews; Godchildren, Nancy, Willie, Craig, Richard, Evan, Bonky, Rayana and Preston; and his faithful companion, Lakota. Grand Chief was predeceased by sisters, Mary Ellen (Joe Noel) Phillips, Mary Theresa (John) Cremo, Mary Jane Nevin; Godparents, Noel R. Denny and Jessie Jeddore; father and mother-in-law, William and Janet Sylliboy; nieces and nephews, Richard Phillips, Caroline Phillips, Simon "Chum" Cremo, Johnnie Cremo, Mary Madeline Poulette; brothers-in-law, Charlie Poulette, Bernie Sylliboy, James Sylliboy; sister-in-law, Alexandrine Sylliboy; our angel in heaven great-granddaughter, Rielle Faith.
In Grand Chief Ben’s younger years, he worked as a seasonal worker, pulp cutter and carpenter. With this trade, he worked at the Heavy Water Plant, Port Hawkesbury, Grand Narrows Bridge and We’koqma’q School. He was a member of the Carpenters Union. He was a Medical Hospital driver for many years. Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy also served as a We’koqma’q Band Councillor for 18 years. He became part of the Sante Mawiomi in 1968 as a Keptin for twenty-four years before becoming Grand Chief in 1992. This year he celebrated 25 years of being Grand Chief.
Grand Chief Ben was very involved in his community. He lived a balanced life of serving his community and people and enjoying community events. Grand Chief Ben served as a volunteer fireman, bingo caller, a baseball coach, played horseshoes, snowmobiling, hockey and darts
He was a member of the We’koqma’q Kisikuk Committee, Elders Council, Church Committee, and the Nova Scotia Summer Games Committee. He was also involved in Healing Our Nations, Lnu'wisultinej Conference, Siawi Lnu’wisultinej Conference, Mawi’tamk Society Board and L’Arche Cape Breton and took part in the celebrations of Jean Vanier’s visit in 1986. When asked, "Who is a person who stands out of all the people you have crossed paths with" He replied, "Jean Vanier".
Grand Chief had the love of Ste Anne from a young age. He made his first St Anne de Beaupre pilgrimage at the age of two where he travelled on the train with his parents. He would continue to make his annual pilgrimage every June and attend the First Nation Mass Celebration at the Shrine of Ste Anne de Beaupre. Grand Chief had great devotion to Ste Anne the Patron Saint of the Mi’kmaw People. Grand Chief would open and close along with the help of many members of Sante Mawiomi the Ste Anne Mission, a weekend devoted to our Ste Anne. He followed Ste. Anne on Nov 30, 2017 and went home.
Grand Chief Ben lived a life of service to Niskam and his people by attending wakes, funerals, Weddings, Baptisms, First Communions and Confirmations. He also served as a Eucharistic Minister, bookkeeper for St Kateri Parish, and worked at many community Salite’s. Grand Chief was a driving force in fundraising for St Kateri Parish and the community’s annual pilgrimage to Ste Anne de Beaupre. He followed our lady’s calling and was part of Medjugorje twice as part of a group pilgrimage. He honoured Father Jozo to become an Honorary Chief. Grand Chief Ben was also involved in the Cursillio Movement.
He was one of the founding members of the Mawi’tamk Society, a home for Mi’kmaw Adults with Special Needs. He, along with his wife and sisters fought for accessing services to their members. Mawi’tamk and L’Arche had a very special place in his heart.
He was recently honoured at The Great Trail dedicated by the Trans Canada Trail. He was also a recipient of the Treaty Day Elders Award along with his sister Margaret on behalf of their work with Mawi’tamk. He had been awarded an Honorary Diploma from the Nova Scotia Community College from the School of Health and Human Services.
He loved a good game of cribbage and travelled the county looking for a challenge. He enjoyed watching his favourite sport teams, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Montreal Canadiens and jokingly making his phone calls to his hockey friends. Ben also enjoyed listening to Newfoundland music but he LOVED Stompin Tom and Richard and Pikun Poulette
As a young boy, Grand Chief Ben attended the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, where he stayed for four years and attended the Whycocomagh Indian Day School. In his adult years, as a survivor of the residential school, he was an active member of the survivors’ group and made sure he was involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). He shared in the accomplishments of the We’koqma’q survivors group in placing a community monument of all survivors from We’koqma’q.
He also attended the National TRC event to give his testimony. He took part in developing a school curriculum, which is presently used to teach our children about the Residential Schools, and reminding our children MA’TLIPIA’TIWKW APP (It won’t happen again), as written on this monument. He made sure to attend every graduation in our community.
As Grand Chief of the Mi’kmaw Nation, he worked alongside many organizations on the national, regional, and provincial levels of Aboriginal and Mi’kmaw Governance:
National Aboriginal Organizations: Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Atlantic Policy Congress, Ulnoowej Development Corporation, Sante’ Mawio'mi (Mi’kmaw Grand Council), Mi’kmaw Rights Initiatives, Union of Nova Scotia Indians, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK), Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources, Mi’kmaw Association of Cultural Studies, Mi’kmaw Family and Children Services, Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network, Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselling Association, Mi’kmaw Nova Scotia Canada Tripartite Forum.
Grand Chief’s hope for his people was to see his Mi’kmaw People regain and continue in revitalization efforts of our Mi’kma’q language; to build relationships within families; and to learn and carry on the traditional knowledge of our people. His wisdom, guidance and faith will live on for many years to come.
The family of the late Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy would like to thank St. Martha’s ER Department, Antigonish, the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, Sydney: ER, 4A, ICU and Dialysis Units and Dr. Chow, Dr. Cruess and Dr. G. Yeung for their services.
Visitation for Grand Chief will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday, December 7, in the Multi Purpose Building, 160 Reservation Road, We’koqma’q. Funeral mass will be 1 p.m. Saturday, December 9, from St. Kateri Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, We’koqma’q with Bishop Brian Dunn officiating. Burial will follow in the parish cemetery. Family flowers only please. Memorial donations in memory of Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy may be made to Friends of St. Anne de Beaupre Annual Pilgrimage. Funeral arrangements are under the care and direction of Dennis Haverstock Funeral Chapel, Whycocomagh. Words of comfort may be forwarded to Grand Chiefs family at www.haverstocks.com