Mary Simon being named as Canada’s next Governor General has national & global significance, say Inuit leaders

Mary Simon looks towards Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the July 6 announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, has been named as Canada’s next governor general — the first Indigenous person to serve in the role. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The naming of Inuk leader Mary Simon as the next Governor General of Canada has not just national, but also global significance, said Inuit leaders on Tuesday after the announcement.

“She’s spent 40 years advocating for Inuit rights and culture in Canada and Mary Simon is so deserving of this,” Rebecca Kudloo,  president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, said in a phone interview.

“She will represent with passion and success and I know she’ll be a role model for young girls.”

Mary Simon is from Nunavik, the Inuit region of Arctic Quebec.

Simon’s career has spanned everything from national leadership at Inuit Tapiriiit Kanatami, the organization that represents Inuit in Canada, to the chairship of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the organization that represents the world’s 180,000 Inuit. 

Simon is also a former Arctic ambassador and ambassador to Denmark, the former president of Makivik Corporation, the Inuit land claims organization in Nunavik, and was most recently Nunavik’s senior negotiator of the Nunavik Self-Determination process. 

Simon also had a key role in the creation of the Arctic Council, the international forum made up the eight circumpolar countries, and six Arctic Indigenous groups.

“This is a new chapter in Canada’s relationship with Inuit, First Nations, and Métis,” Pita Aatami, Makivik Corporation’s president, said in a news release.

“Having an Indigenous person as the Crown’s Representative in Canada sends a strong message to the nation, and to the international community. This comes at an important time in our history as we collectively work towards reconciliation.”

Global significance
Mary Simon and her husband Whit Fraser leave the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Simon would be the country’s next Governor General. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Governor General is the Queen’s representative in Canada and is a largely ceremonial role that involves duties like reading the Speech from the Throne, dissolving parliament and giving royal assent.

  ICC says the naming of Simon to the role is not just important for the country, but also has global significance.

“Canada has appointed a skilled diplomat to a position that can contribute to the reconciliation process Canada is engaged in,” ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk said in a statement.

“Her international contributions to the support and enhancement of Indigenous Human Rights are significant. In addition to the Arctic Council, she has contributed to the lengthy drafting process of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), passed at the United Nations in 2007 in New York.”

Pita Aatami agreed.

“I am sure that Inuit will be celebrating across Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Alaska, Greenland, and Chukotka today. First Nations and Metis communities will also have reason to celebrate as we now have for the first time in Canadian history, an Indigenous person as Governor General of Canada, the Queen’s Representative.

Important symbol amidst residential school grave discoveries

Simon’s appointment also comes at pivotal time in Canada, where in recent weeks, hundreds of unmarked graves have been detected at the sites of former residential schools across the country.

“Myself, I’m a residential school survivor,” Rebecca Kudloo said.

“And with all the news of the discovery of the unmarked graves, our spirits have been down. Something like this just brings you back.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Inuit in Arctic Quebec moving ahead on self-determination talks, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: The Arctic railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Indigenous Peoples call on Nornickel’s global partners to demand environmental action, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Indigenous groups in Alaska welcome Biden’s bid to protect critical Bering Sea area, Radio Canada International

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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