Pjila'si (welcome), out on the Port au Port Peninsula (Payun Aqq Payunji'j), many of the present-day Mi'kmaq originated from around the Bras d'Or Lakes (Pitu'pok or Pitu'pa'q) in Nova Scotia – some via St. George, Flat Bay and Sandy Point. There are relatives living on and off reserves across the Mi'kma'ki territory including Eskasoni and in many areas including (Esgenoopetitj) Burnt Church, N.B.
Oral tradition tells us that there was Mi'kmaq here from before the arrival and presence of the Europeans. This is backed up by the logs recorded by European Explores including Captain James Cook. Some Mi'kmaq stayed all year around, some intermarried with Beothuk- but for the most part Taqamkuk (Newfoundland) was more of a seasonal extended territory where our people would come over to trap, hunt and what have you then return to Wunama'kik (Cape Breton).
The arrival of the Europeans helped bring about a more permanent Mi’kmaq presence in Taqamkuk earlier than perhaps would have been the case. Mi’kmaq had traditionally traveled by canoe across from St. Paul’s Island, Nova Scotia to the Cape Ray and St. George’s Bay areas of Newfoundland. Mi'kmaq families migrated all around St. George's Bay (Baie St-George) and the surrounding area. They didn’t spend any time announcing their presence or letting European colonialists of their presence. They would have preferred to go about their travels and migrations unnoticed. A larger European presence at Sandy Point was another reason Mi’kmaq spread out around the St. George’s Bay, Port au Port Peninsula and beyond- as far away as Conne River.
Mi’kmaq in Acadia had been unofficial allies of the French and a long relationship existed. In more recent history we saw deserters from the French Fishery off Red Island, on the Port au Port peninsula seek refuge with local Mi’kmaq families and marrying Mi’kmaq wives from the area and as far away as St. George's. This brought a stronger French presence to the area especially since many Mi’kmaq were already speaking French as a second language. This followed a period where both French and Mi’kmaq identified themselves as English subjects to avoid being signaled out by the British Authorities who claimed ownership of the lands. Today this peaceful relationship between the Francophone and Mi’kmaq continues.
It also seems that many Mi'kmaq families who were adapting European habits and traveling on European ships were incorrectly identified as Acadian settlers. This may have been deliberate on their part - as it meant safe passage, eliminated stereotyping of natives, and made the lives of the Mi'kmaq easier when they acted as the Europeans and were accepted as equals. Add to this the fact that the Mi'kmaq were baptized and given Christian names as well as surnames. The main Mi’kmaq family lines on the Port au Port Peninsula (Payun Aqq Payunji'j) today include Benoit, Hinks, Jesso, Young and Marche.
McAlpine's Directory of 1894 – 1898 of the area lists occupants with the surnames of Deman (Damois), Jesso, Tourout, Simon, Benoit, Young, Lainey, Carter, Paria (Porrier), Renouf, and Chesson (Chaisson).
In 1972 under the local leadership of Adolph Benoit; this community was part of the revival of the Mi’kmaq of St. George’s Bay. The regional council included Edna Benoit, one of the band elders, who at one point was Secretary and very involved. With the disbanding of the Bay St. George Regional Indian Band in the early 1980’s – this signaled, for the community, the beginning of a long period of local silence that was only reawakened in the last couple of years. The Benoit First Nation was born out of this necessity to provide local representation to its people.
The Benoit First Nation is based on the South West side of the Port au Port Peninsula, NL. The band council office is located in Degrau; incorporated in 2005 the Band Council is elected every three years. The Band has democratic elections and operates by majority rule, with traditional procedures used as much as possible.
Another mandate of the band is to reach out to other communities and organizations in an atmosphere of peace, friendship, and cooperation. The band will also work on a regional level with the other bands in the spirit of unity and cooperation whenever the opportunity arises. The name Benoit in the band title was chosen as a tribute to Francois Benoit and Anne L’Official, Mi’kmaq ancestors of band members. Other historic Mi’kmaq family names associated with our community include Muise, Roy, Joseph, Chego and others.
The Benoit First Nation consists of Mi’kmaq living on the Southwest side of the Port au Port Peninsula (Payun Aqq Payunji'j) with Red Brook as its centre. It includes members from De Grau, Red Brook, Marches Point, Sheaves Cove, Lower Cove and area. The executive consists of an elected Chief, Vice-chief, Secretary and Treasurer.
Council & Members are: Chief Jasen Sylvester Benwah, Vice-chief Peter A. Benoit, Secretary Glenda A. Benwah, Treasurer Conrad Benoit, Elder Rep Jerome Benoit, Women Rep Mary Phyllis Young, and Youth Rep Samantha L. Jesso.
It should be noted that in the band that elders have special status as advisors, and general members are welcomed as observers at Band Council Meetings. General Assemblies take place with the seasons (quarterly), elections and referendums are conducted by secret ballot, and there is a focus on cultural and language revival. It is with this passion that the band embraces the idea of a regional Pow-wow and is an active member of the organizing committee.
We are proud Eagle clan. Welálin (thank you).
written by Jasen Sylvester Benwah
Copyright © 2008 Jasen Sylvester Benwah