Newspaper article The Canadian Press

N.S. Pardons Late Mi'kmaq Leader: 'He Was the First to Stand Up for Us'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

N.S. Pardons Late Mi'kmaq Leader: 'He Was the First to Stand Up for Us'

Article excerpt

Nova Scotia pardons late Mi'kmaq leader

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HALIFAX - Gabriel Sylliboy died feeling like he failed his Mi'kmaq people.

The grand chief launched a fight for aboriginal rights after being charged with illegal hunting in the 1920s, but the courts of the era dismissed the notion that a 1752 treaty gave Sylliboy any rights.

It would take another six decades before those rights were recognized by the courts.

"Our grand chief was really quite sad about the fact that he was charged and wasn't able to be successful in obtaining Mi'kmaq rights for his people," said Jaime Battiste, the province's treaty education lead.

"He went to his deathbed thinking he let the Mi'kmaq people down."

On Thursday, nearly 90 years after his conviction, the Nova Scotia government pardoned and honoured Sylliboy, who was born in 1874 in Whycocomagh, N.S., and became the first elected Mi'kmaq grand chief.

At Government House in Halifax, Sylliboy was feted as a Nova Scotia hero.

"While we formally complete this process, it is not simply the stroke of a pen on the Queen's behalf that is the only component of what we undertake today," said Lt.-Gov. J.J. Grant, who granted the free pardon at a ceremony.

"It is a process of treaty education that includes understanding and valuing what the Mi'kmaq have contributed in shaping this province and nation."

Sylliboy received only the second posthumous pardon in Nova Scotia history, after black civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond.

He was convicted of hunting illegally in 1928, and died in 1964.

Speaking directly to Sylliboy's grandson George Sylliboy at the ceremony, Premier Stephen McNeil apologized.

"I want to say to you, to your ancestors, to the grand chief, how sorry I am," said McNeil, noting that he was born in 1964 and it has taken his lifetime for the province to recognize Sylliboy's legacy.

Members of the Sylliboy family and the Mi'kmaq community submitted a petition for the free pardon several years ago. Battiste said he sat down with McNeil in late 2015 and he agreed to the apology.

Naiomi Metallic, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said Sylliboy's case was the first time treaty rights were used as a defence. …

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