Raising awareness about the impacts of Arctic climate change will be among her priorities as Governor General of Canada, Mary Simon said during her installation ceremony in Ottawa on Monday.
“The twin global crises of nature disruption and climate change are undoubtedly the challenge of our time,” Simon said. “For evidence, we need only look at the Arctic and what has happened this past month across the country. The devastating impacts of forest fires, prolonged droughts and record heat waves.”
Simon, an Inuk from Arctic Quebec, is the first Indigenous person to hold the role of Governor General in Canada’s history. She said spotlighting local environmental initiatives, as well as the local actions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis will be a focus of her tenure.
“As Governor General, I will promote and recognize leading examples of community and Indigenous -driving conservation and of climate action that are making a real difference and can inspire other Canadians to do the same,” she said. “I hope to promote these examples of Canadian leadership, nationally and around the world.”
“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life”
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.
Simon was named as the new Governor General earlier this month after a long career that’s 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.
In her speech, Simon also addressed the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools across the country, revelations that have rocked Canada in recent weeks.
“The discovery of unmarked graves on the grounds of residential schools in recent weeks has horrified me along with all Canadians ” she said. “A lot of people think that reconciliation will be completed through projects and services . All Canadians deserve access to services. My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day. Reconciliation is getting to know one another.
“As stated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, reconciliation must support Aboriginal peoples as they heal from destructive legacies of colonization that have wreaked such havoc in their lives.”
Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, says having an Inuk woman in such a high profile position, sends an important message Inuit women across the country.
“Inuit women from every corner of Canada watched today’s ceremony,” she said in a statement on Monday.
“We also see today’s ceremony as a step towards reconciliation with Inuit women. In order for change to happen, Inuit women need to not only be in the room where decisions are made but also at the table and able to speak.”
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Related stories from around the North:
Canada: LIVE on CBC News – Mary Simon sworn in as Canada’s next Governor General, 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