OTTAWA: Former Canadian diplomat and an Inuit leader; Mary Simon has been appointed as Canada’s next Governor-general. She makes history as she becomes the first Indigenous person to serve in the role.
Simon’s appointment was announced on Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., and he also announced that Queen Elizabeth II approved the appointment.
According to Canada Press, the position of the governor-general, who represents the Queen in Canada, has been vacant for five months since former governor-general; Julie Payette resigned in January following a scathing independent report on the toxic work environment that had developed at Rideau Hall during her tenure.
“Ms. Simon’s career has always been one of breaking down barriers,” Trudeau said.
“Today, after 154 years, our country takes a historic step. I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment.”
In her appreciation remarks, Simon first spoke in Inuktitut and then in English. She thanked Trudeau for the “historic opportunity” and she is “honored, humbled, and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor-general.”
The role of the governor-general is to act as the Crown’s representative in Canada. It is not political, which Simon said she understands.
At the same time, she added there are “very important responsibilities” in the role and she believes she can help to bring people together as the country works toward reconciliation.
“When I was asked whether I would take on this important role, I was very excited and felt this was a position that would help Canadians together with Indigenous peoples working together,” she said when asked whether she felt there was any conflict in representing the Crown as an Indigenous person.
“I think if people understand each other in this way and respect each other, then this is what we call reconciliation. … The past is something that we have to come to terms with but I am going to look forward to ensuring Canadians together will build a better Canada, and I think that is my important role.”
Simon then shared her thoughts on what will come next.
“My vision is to work in a way that allows for the freedom of people to express who they are, and to build a Canada that is working together, not against each other,” she said.
“I see a very bright future.”
Simon, a prominent Inuk leader was formerly the Canadian ambassador to Denmark and she also played a leading role in the creation of the Arctic Council. She is also an Officer of the Order of Canada and has been honored over the last several decades with the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gold Order of the Canadian Geographic Society, and the Governor General’s Northern Award.
She has also been inducted into the International Women’s Hall of Fame and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, among other honours.
She is the former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization.
“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path to reconciliation,” Simon told journalists.
She is bilingual in English and Inuktitut, but not in French — normally a key requirement for Crown appointments who are expected to conduct their work and communicate in both official languages.
Simon said she was denied the chance to learn French while attending a federal day school in Quebec but is committed to doing so.
“ I am deeply committed to continuing my French language studies and plan to conduct the business of the governor-general of Canada in both official languages,” Simon said.
Trudeau thanked Richard Wagner, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who has been acting as the administrator since Payette resigned earlier in the year.
Speculation has been growing over recent months that a federal election could be imminent, and it is the governor-general who will grant any request by the prime minister to dissolve Parliament.
Trudeau said he has not discussed any plans for an election with Simon.
Simon was born in Northern Quebec in what is now called Nunavik, to an Inuk mother and a father who was a manager of the local Hudson Bay Company post, she said on Tuesday.
Her Inuk name is Ningiukudluk.
In a tweet on Tuesday, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami praised the appointment of Simon.
“ITK extends its deepest congratulations to Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor-General!” the organization wrote. ” Mary has served Inuit and Canada in many distinguished roles, including as President of ITK. We wish her extraordinary success in her role at this critical time in our history.”
The Inuit Circumpolar Council, of which Simon is a former president, also described the move as “a major step forward in relations between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples domestically, and globally.”
From Agnes Isika’s blog team we say, Congratulations Mary Simon as you become Canada’s first Indigenous Governor-General!