Penwaaq L’nu’k - History of the Community

Pjila'sioq (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 and other points around Bay St. George. 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 before the arrival and presence of the Europeans, since time immortal. 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 Ktaqamkuk (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 Ktaqamkuk earlier than perhaps would have been the case. Mi’kmaq had traditionally traveled by canoe across the ocean via 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 preferred to go about their travels and migrations unnoticed. They spent their time surviving off the lands and caring for their families. 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. The French were the lesser of the two evils and were more respectful when dealing with indigenous peopes. 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. The saved the Frenchen from dying in the bush. This brought a stronger French presence to the area especially since most 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, Lainey, 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 the Port au Port Indian Band, in Cape St George, was under the local leadership of Chief Adolph Benoit; this community was part of the revival of the Mi’kmaq of St. George’s Bay. The Port au Port council included, Josephine Simon, Geraline Jesso, Lavern Felix, Sylvester Benoit and Edna Benoit, who was Secretary and very involved. With the stepping down of Adoph Benoit in the early 1980’s – this signaled, for the community, the beginning of a long period of local silence that was only reawakened in later 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 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 four years. The Band has democratic elections and operates by majority rule, with traditional procedures used as much as possible and decisions made by consensus.

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, Gallant, Cormier, Joseph, Chego and others.

The Benoit First Nation consists of Mi’kmaq living on the west side of the Port au Port Peninsula (Payun Aqq Payunji'j). It includes members from De Grau, Red Brook, Marches Point, Sheaves Cove, Lower Cove, Ship Cove, Abraham's Cove, Jerry's Noise, Picaddily Slant, Piccadilly Head, West Bay, Clam Bank Cove, Winterhouses, Black Duck Brook, Three Rock Cove, Mainland and area.

The executive consists of CEO-Vice-Chief, Secretary and Treasurer.

The Band Council includes CEO-Vice-chief Barbra Benoit, Secretary Myra Benoit, Treasurer Conrad Benoit, Elder Councillor Phyllis Young, Women Councillor Leila Kerfont, Heritage Park Councillor George Benoit, Public Relations Councillor Lory Benoit-Jesso and Youth Councillor Tracy Jesso. Decisions are by consensus and all leads are Community leaders.

The Traditional Sagmaw or Chief of our region is appointed by the independent Elders Advisory Committee and is the cultural and language Advisor.

It should be noted that elders have an independent and special status as advisors and select the Sagamaw as required, and general members are welcomed as observers at all Band Meetings.

General Assemblies take place annually, elections and referendums are conducted by secret ballot or on-line, 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 was an active member of the organizing committee since 2006.

We are proud Eagle clan. Welálin (thank you).

Disclaimer: Although we are supportive of regional cooperation, involvement, interaction, communication, sharing, and partnerships Benoit First Nation is a totally independant regional Mi'kmaq Band.

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