N.S. par­dons late Mi’kmaq chief

The Peterborough Examiner - - NATIONAL NEWS - ALY THOM­SON

HAL­I­FAX — The Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment has par­doned and hon­oured a late Mi’kmaq grand chief, decades af­ter he was con­victed of il­le­gal hunt­ing.

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

The prov­ince also apol­o­gized to Syl­li­boy at a cer­e­mony at Gov­ern­ment House in Hal­i­fax.

“The wrongs of the past can never be un­done, but we can work to­gether to do bet­ter for the chil­dren of this gen­er­a­tion and of those that fol­low,” said Lt.- Gov. J.J. Grant, who granted the free par­don.

“This par­don ... helps us ac­knowl­edge and learn from the struggles of the past and memo­ri­al­ize those who sought to ex­er­cise their rights.”

Syl­li­boy was born in 1874 in Why­co­co­magh, Cape Bre­ton, and be­came the first elected Mi’kmaq grand chief and a passionate ad­vo­cate for treaty rights.

He was con­victed of hunt­ing il­le­gally in the late 1920s, but took his fight to the Supreme Court of Nova Sco­tia. He passed away in 1964.

“Grand Chief Syl­li­boy was a Mi’kmaw leader who acted with courage and in­tegrity in this hunt at a time when abo­rig­i­nal and treaty rights were not rec­og­nized with the full weight we ac­cord them now,” said Premier Stephen McNeil.

“We rec­og­nize that the treat­ment of the grand chief was un­just. The prov­ince apol­o­gizes to the fam­ily of Grand Chief Syl­li­boy and the Mi’kmaw com­mu­nity for this in­jus­tice. An im­por­tant step on our path to­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is rec­og­niz­ing the mis­takes of the past so we can build a bet­ter fu­ture for all Nova Sco­tians.”

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

“There’s a quote I use when I’m teach­ing. The judge said some­thing like, ‘Treaties are un­con­strained acts be­tween two sov­er­eign pow­ers and the Mi’kmaq were sav­ages and in­ca­pable of hav­ing treaties,’ ” said Metal­lic, who is Mi’kmaq and spe­cial­izes in abo­rig­i­nal law.

“(Syl­li­boy) ap­par­ently felt re­ally bad that he had lost. He felt that he had let the Mi’kmaq peo­ple down by mak­ing an ar­gu­ment based on the treaties and not suc­ceed­ing.”

Decades later, the Supreme Court of Canada af­firmed the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq peo­ple.

The court de­ter­mined in 1985 that James Si­mon of Nova Sco­tia had the right to hunt for food. He re­lied on the same Peace and Friend­ship Treaty as Syl­li­boy for his de­fence.

And later, the Mar­shall rul­ing of 1999 up­held treaties from 1760 and 1761 that said Mi’kmaq can earn a mod­er­ate liv­ing from hunt­ing and fish­ing. That case was brought by Don­ald Mar­shall Jr., well-known for hav­ing been wrong­fully con­victed of mur­der in the early 1970s and him­self the son of a Mi’kmaq grand chief.

Metal­lic said Syl­li­boy is highly re­garded in the Mi’kmaq com­mu­nity, call­ing him “a man of great sig­nif­i­cance.”

“For the time that it was, it was phe­nom­e­nal that some­body had the brav­ery and the courage to do this. It’s so sad to think he went to his grave think­ing he let his peo­ple down. He cer­tainly didn’t,” she said.

“This man had to fight and ul­ti­mately lost and he bore the spir­i­tual con­se­quences of that in terms of how it af­fected him for the rest of his life. So it’s im­por­tant for us to look to the past and cor­rect those things if we can.”


East­ern Eagle per­forms at a cer­e­mony at Gov­ern­ment House in Hal­i­fax on Thurs­day. The Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ment par­doned and hon­oured Gabriel Syl­li­boy, a late Mi’kmaq grand chief, decades af­ter he was con­victed of il­le­gal hunt­ing.

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