Magit Poulette, Brian MacLeod, Marie Sylliboy, and Tom Gunn at the dedication ceremony at NSCC's Strait Campus.
-by John Gillis
He is remembered as a quiet, wise, and dedicated leader – a man of his people.
A residential school survivor, soft spoken, Grand Chief Ben was a councillor in his community of We’koqma’q before he became Grand Chief.
A year of mourning has been part of the grieving for his people before a new Grand Chief will be chosen.
Grand Chief Ben was fondly remembered by his friends and family at a special dedication event during the Make Way Campaign celebration on Monday at NSCC’s Strait Campus.
NSCC unveiled a special black and white photographic portrait of Grand Chief Ben in the entrance way to the theatre and the room is a fitting place for it to be.
“We wanted to see that this room can be a welcoming place for First Nation students, a place where they can feel at home in a learning environment and a place to be where they can look around and be proud of their culture,” said Brian MacLeod, a long-time friend of the late Grand Chief.
MacLeod spoke eloquently and from the heart about being a young man of the age of 22, who was hired to be the band manager in We’koqma’q.
“I was in over my head no doubt and fortunately I had a mentor in Ben, who took me under his wing and taught me so much about life, about native culture, about the importance of community values and so much more,” said MacLeod.
MacLeod said he was fortunate to learn so much from Sylliboy, many things that he put into practice in his own life and lengthy business career.
MacLeod, one of the corporate donors behind the dedication to dedicate the NSCC theatre in memory of Grand Chief Ben, was clearly proud of the atmosphere and learning opportunity created in the room from the large display of visual art from We’koqma’q artist, Loretta Gould and others.
Speaking from the heart, MacLeod asked everyone in the room to reflect on what it means to be treaty people as we are all treaty people.
“We have the acknowledgement of being here and living on unceeded Mi’kmaq land and it’s great that we do that. However, I would like to ask you all to consider much more, consider the relationships that we have together as people. One thing is for certain, we’re all here. We’re not going anywhere. How can we improve and deepen our relations (with our First Nations),” said MacLeod.
Many of Chief Ben’s family members were on hand for the celebration including his wife Marie, his sister Magit, his daughters Christena (Duece) and Michelle, and there were even a couple of young grandchildren who playfully enjoyed their time in the room.
Duece Sylliboy spoke on behalf of her family.
Duece, a teacher herself, spoke of the importance of knowing your language, something she said her father taught her.
“He valued learning the language because that’s where the teachings are. He encouraged all (of us and his people) to get a great education, saying that at one time a person could survive and get by off the land. Today, however, you need as well to have an education. Dad really valued education and seeing these children, his grandchildren here today, makes me think that one day maybe they and others like them will grow up and be attending this college someday,” Duece concluded.
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