Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau made the historic step to appoint Inuk leader Mary Simon as the first Indigenous Governor General in Canada.
By Maryam Razzaq
As Prime Minister Trudeau welcomed Mary Simons into her new role, he shared some thoughts.
“Canada is a place defined by people. People who serve those around them, who tackle big challenges with hope and determination, and above all, who never stop working to build a brighter tomorrow. In other words, people like Mary Simons,” said Prime Minister Trudeau.
Originating from Kangiqsualujjuaq, of the Nunavik region in northern Quebec, Simon has spent her life advocating for Inuit rights in Canada. In the past she has served in Canada’s national advocacy organization for Inuit as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. Simons was also the first Inuk ambassador in Denmark.
During a press conference earlier this month, Simon discussed how she lived a very traditional lifestyle.
“Many months out of the year we camped and lived on the land, hunted, fished and gathered food and maintained an active connection with our Inuit heritage and language”, Simon said.
Simon will serve as the Queen’s representative in Canada. Traditionally, this role has been a bilingual position as the governor general is expected to speak both English and French, Canada’s official languages. Simon is fluent in Inuktitut and English and is currently taking French lessons.
“I am deeply committed to continuing my French language studies and plan to conduct the business of the governor general in both of Canada’s official languages,” said Simon.
Simon’s lack of fluency in French drew criticism from Quebec Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan.
“How can a prime minister consider that it is appropriate to appoint a governor general who will not be able to speak to more than 8 million French speaking citizens of Canada?” said Carignan.
Simon says she never had the opportunity to learn French, despite growing up in Quebec as French was never taught at the federal day school she attended. Federal day schools were different than residential schools but were largely run by the same groups.
Simon brings forth an impressive background as she has been heavily involved in many landmark negotiations in her careers, including the James Bay and Norther Quebec Agreement between the Cree and Inuit. This treaty is understood as the first modern-day treaty as it acknowledged the Cree and Inuit rights for exclusive hunting, fishing and trapping and self-governance in select areas – it further offered financial compensation for the construction of large hydroelectric dams in the area for Quebec’s growing demand for new energy sources.
Simon is announced as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General of Canada as the nation grapples with their dark history with the unfolding of hundreds of unmarked children graves at former residential schools.
“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together. The discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of residential schools in recent weeks has horrified me, along with all Canadians. My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” said Simon.
Through her advocacy for the Inuit, Simon has been allocated many opportunities to represent the Indigenous community throughout her career. She was one of five Indigenous representatives to the House of Commons in 2008 to receive the government’s apology to those affected by residential schools. Additionally, she was named an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigations of residential schools in Canada.
As Simon was sworn in Monday morning, she was welcomed with an Indigenous drumming circle at the Senate building and inside the chamber, a traditional Inuit oil lamp was lit during the ceremony.
In her first speech, Simon focused on reconciliation, working on destigmatizing mental health and climate change solutions.
“I am honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general,” said Simons in her first speech as Canada’s Governor General.