By JORDAN PARKER
Special to the Appalachian
CAPE ST. GEORGE – When First Nations Chief Jasen Benwah sees his name in print, he remains entirely humbled by it. The Benoit First Nation – Penwaaq L’nu’k activist is a multi-disciplined leader, and shares his area’s history however he can.
“My job is to assist in the cultural development of Mi’kmaq communities here, and I work on language restoration, preserving history, and looking at traditions,” explained Benwah. “I work to keep stories alive, and also focus on building infrastructure, try to help with job creation and most recently work on food security.”
The musician, cultural icon and researcher has had a strong hand in a series of books that relate that history and serve as a dedicated reminder of photos and stories from the area.
“This book goes back 20-plus years. I’ve been gathering information, looking at things others have passed on, copied and borrowed pictures and stories, and taking pictures as well. I realized all of this would make a great series of books,” Benwah said. “There was a booklet done in 2016, but it wasn’t enough to settle my appetite to preserve these things in print. This year, a few ladies at the band office worked on a collection of history and stories, and a coffee table picture book was done.”
The books are L’nu’k: Honouring Our History, L’nuk’: Portraits of the Past, Visiting Our Mi’kmaq Elders, and new children’s book Kluskap’s Trail.
“It just dawned on me that we’d never done a children’s book. I scribbled a storyline for me and the kids on Kluskap’s Trail, and the girls ran with it,” he said. “Now we have these books and the most popular is the colour children’s book. It talks about Turtle Island, and all book royalties will go to cultural programming and activities for the band and the region.”
Benwah is steadfast that learning about your history, preserving it, and knowing where you come from is huge.
“Some things I’m doing here have never been done before me, and I was happy to take on that challenge. I’ve received so much support from elders, seniors and other organizations. This is a labour of love, and I have a passion and vision for the future here,” he said. “It’s good for your mental health to help your community and understand where you’re from. Some have a hole in their spirit and heart, and that comes from a lack of knowledge of their past. It was suppressed for so long for some families.”
But Benwah wants to make an important distinction about chronicling history and the work he’s doing for the Benoit First Nation.
“We aren’t here to change history, but we are adding another side to it. What we are doing here just means we’re completing the picture,” he said. “It’s been so amazing to preserve these things and put everything together in this way. It’s truly been an unbelievable experience.”
He is a huge advocate of bringing multi-disciplinary efforts to this work.
“It’s all part of a big picture, and you need to look at all components. From knowledge, oral stories, music, and books, it’s all important. We keep this things for the future,” said Benwah. “Next is video, and we want to do a series of documentaries about the band and the people. I’d also love to see a series of murals so we could tell stories. These are all things waiting on the bookshelf in my head.”
Benwah sees the work as a way for people to reclaim their heritage, and thinks it can help people.
“I want to make people proud of where they come from. These people have so often been quiet, but they can learn all about this,” he said. “Education is key, knowledge is power, and we should always be chasing more knowledge.”
The books are available via Amazon or can found at the Mi’kmaw Centre at Benoit First Nation.