Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaq select Norman Sylliboy of Eskasoni as new grand chief

Norman Sylliboy of Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., has been named grand chief of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, 101 years after his grandfather became the first elected grand chief.

Sylliboy calls Mi'kmaq Grand Council the oldest form of government in North America

Norman Sylliboy of Eskasoni, N.S., has been named new grand chief of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, 101 years after his grandfather became the first elected grand chief. (Submitted by George Paul)

Norman Sylliboy of Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia has been named grand chief of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council.

He replaces Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy, who died nearly two years ago.

Norman Sylliboy has been a hereditary keptin, or captain, of the Grand Council for years.

He said his selection as grand chief was special. His grandfather, Gabriel Sylliboy, was the first elected grand chief 101 years ago.

"Very emotional and it just was overwhelming," he said.

"Grand Chief (Gabriel) Sylliboy, he was a kji-keptin back in 1918 and a prayer leader and he was highly respected."

Originally a hereditary position

Until then, the position had been hereditary.

However, the last hereditary grand chief, John Denny Jr., didn't want his son to take over in 1918.

Some of his descendants want the position made hereditary again, but Norman Sylliboy said he hasn't made up his mind on that yet.

Taking things in stride

"I can't take a stand right now, as I'm new grand chief," he said.

"I'm in the process of looking into it. I'm just trying to take things at stride."

The selection of grand chief took place at the St. Anne's Mission at Potlotek First Nation, Chapel Island, N.S., on Sunday.

The Mi'kmaq Grand Council is made up of keptins from throughout Atlantic Canada and parts of Quebec and Maine.

Sylliboy said he is just starting to move into the role this week and does not yet have an overall plan for the grand council.

However, he said he intends to encourage the council to reinforce treaty rights and maintain their faith, traditions and language.

"What Grand Council stands for is the first form of government in North America," Sylliboy said.

"They were the government 500 years ago. I just want them to be strong in the Mi'kmaw community and their faith."

Walter Denny, a Grand Council keptin who was involved in the selection process, said 11 keptins were put forward for the grand chief position, but three declined.

Runoff came down to consensus

He said the process went through several rounds, but when it got down to the final two candidates, the council agreed by consensus on Norman Sylliboy.

Denny said it was his job to let the public know about the result, so he put the news on Facebook.

The social media post quickly received hundreds of likes and shares, he said, and was similar to the Vatican practice of burning white smoke to signify the selection of a new pope.

"Our white smoke was Facebook," Denny said with a laugh.


Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at