Mi’kmaw leader John Joe Sark remembered as a pioneer who fought for truth and justice | TBEN news


John Joe Sark was remembered Tuesday as the spiritual leader of the Mi’kmaq who devoted his life to eradicating racism and injustice.

Tributes have been pouring in for Sark since he died of complications from diabetes on Sunday at the age of 77.

Sark’s niece, Julie Pellissier-Lush, said her uncle led by example.

“He was willing to take that fight, to take those actions, to put words where they were needed, to make sure there were positive changes. And it happened… long before that, all these things happening now, the truth and reconciliation commission, all these things that he had already been working on, he was already playing a role, he was already trying to bring acknowledgment and acknowledgment to these things that had happened.

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In the 1990s, he asked Pope John Paul II for an apology from the Roman Catholic Church for its role in residential schools.

Two decades and two popes later, the apology finally came.

Sark dropped out of school in 8th grade, saying he was a victim of racism. He became one of the first Mi’kmaw graduates of the University of Prince Edward Island and spent the rest of his life working to end the racism he faced as a child.

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Sark helped draft the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Sark, who performed a smudge with St. Paul’s rector John Clarke, was respected in PEI (TBEN)

“Keptin John Joe was an extraordinary man who spent decades fighting hard for the rights of the Mi’kmaq and worked tirelessly to educate people about our true shared history,” said Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard.

“He was revered as an advocate, educator, author, father and friend to many, and we will miss him dearly.”

Nearly 30 years before the Washington NFL team changed its name, Charlottetown Rural High School dropped the “Redmen” name in favor of the Raiders.

When the Confederation Bridge first opened in 1997, Sark said it should be named Abegweit Crossing. Now there are official attempts to change the name.

In a statement, PEI Prime Minister Dennis King called Sark “an ambassador of his people, [who] proudly stood before Prime Ministers, Prime Ministers and Popes to seek respect and reconciliation.”

When Sark received the county’s highest award, the Order of PEI, he returned it in protest, saying MLAs ignored his call to have Gen. Jeffrey Amherst’s name removed from a national historic site. Amherst had suggested in letters that blankets laced with smallpox be distributed to indigenous peoples.

John Joe Sark's Order of Prince Edward Island
Sark received the Order of Prince Edward Island, the province’s highest award, but returned it in protest, saying MLAs ignored his call to have General Jeffrey Amherst’s name removed from a national historic site. (TBEN)

“John Joe Sark’s role as a spiritual leader for our people has built an enduring bridge of understanding across cultures,” said Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould.

“In his role as a guardian of the spiritual and cultural integrity of the Mi’kmaq people, he fought to remove offensive stereotypes from schools and institutions in Prince Edward Island. His legacy will live on through the many impacts he made.”