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.
ITK extends its deepest congratulations to Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General! 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. pic.twitter.com/MJ3Y3CLoCR
— ITK (@ITK_CanadaInuit) July 6, 2021
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.”
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