As news of the first Indigenous person ever to be appointed to the role of Canada’s next governor general was announced Tuesday, some northerners, including many Indigenous leaders, are celebrating.
Former ambassador Mary Simon, who has been chosen as the next governor general, has been a long-time Inuk leader.
Natan Obed, now in his second term as the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national group representing Canada’s Inuit, called Simon a diplomat.
“She has been a leader. She also has run foundations in relation to children and youth. She has been a tireless advocate for Inuit,” Obed told reporters on Tuesday.
He referenced Simon’s part in the constitutional talks between Indigenous people and the Government of Canada, provinces and territories in the 1980s.
“She has vast experience in working on very difficult political issues at the national level,” Obed said.
He says Simon has the opportunity to help bring First Nations, Inuit and Métis perspectives to Canadians.
“She has a unique ability to talk about a lived experience, to talk about the issues that she has worked on in her career, but also to see the future and to see the way in which we can come together as a country,” Obed said.
“I had a chance to speak with her. She understands that this is a very difficult time in this country, and that she has a healing role to play.”
Obed says Simon’s appointment might help Canadians learn more about the North and to hear more Inuktitut, as she is fluent in the language.
“To bring people together, I think, is something that she is uniquely suited to do,” Obed said.
Simon’s appointment comes weeks after Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said she wouldn’t run again and that she didn’t feel safe as an Indigenous person in parliament. Obed says he thinks there is still a long way to go to build parliamentary institutions that support all people.
“I think that these institutions need to reflect on how to be become more inclusive, more respectful, and also more caring of their peers, and of those who do work in this federal structure,” he said.
Not a “token”
Cathy Towtongie, Nunavut MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, told CBC’s Canada Tonight that she’s cautiously optimistic of Simon’s new role but that she’s certain Simon won’t be a “token” governor general.
“She is very logical and rational. But sometimes she closes herself off when she’s thinking through a problem or policy. But she’s very candid,” Towtongie said.
“Once she comes on a decision, she will put that decision forward and won’t stop until it has been brought into force … I do know she will not be just a token governor general.”
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association congratulated Simon in a news release Tuesday.
“It is a great day for Indigenous peoples to have one of our own be appointed to this position,” said Stanley Anablak, the association’s president, in a written statement.
“Mary Simon has been a great advocate for Inuit rights over her career and we look forward to hearing her speak in
her first language, [Inuktitut], in the House of Commons.”
Young people in Nunavut have also been sharing the news that Simon will be Canada’s next governor general, says Rankin Inlet resident Leslie Fredlund.
“I fee like I’m still in awe,” she said.
“When I looked at my phone this morning, and I saw the announcement on Mary Simon, it changed my day for the better.”
Fredlund says she saw many Inuit women and young people in her area sharing and celebrating the news online on her own social media feed.
“She will be the voice”
Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corporation, the Inuit organization that stems from the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, called today a proud moment for Inuit internationally.
“I actually went to Russia with Mary along with [former Inuit Circumpolar Conference Chair] Sheila Watt-Cloutier and [former Nunavut Commissioner] Peter Irniq and we travelled with the [former] Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, not knowing one day that we would actually have an Inuk governor general,” he said.
Nancy Etok, who is vice principal in Kangiqsualujjuaq and a former colleague of Simon, said the appointment will help Inuit believe they can take on important roles.
“She understands the issues that Indigenous people face, because she grew up as an Inuk,” Etok told CBC News in Inuktut. “She will be the voice for the Indigenous people and it will help educate those around her so it’s a proud accomplishment for Inuit and aboriginal people.”
Some Indigenous leaders also took to social media to applaud Simon’s appointment.
Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called her a diplomat, advocate, and a “strong Inuk Woman” on Twitter.
Congratulations to Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon!
Mary is a diplomat, advocate, and a strong Inuk Woman. I look forward to working with her as the Crown’s representative in Canada!
— Perry Bellegarde (@perrybellegarde) July 6, 2021
Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq says Simon’s appointment was well deserved.
Congratulations to Inuk leader @ningiukudluk Mary Simon, on being named Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.
So well deserved! pic.twitter.com/rvUBEdYCZm
— Premier Joe Savikataaq (@JSavikataaq) July 6, 2021
And both the ITK and the Inuit Circumpolar Council took to Twitter to congratulate Simon.
With files from Juanita Taylor, Jordan Konek
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