Arctic climate change among priorities of Canada’s new Governor General

Governor General Mary Simon speaks after she took the oath to become the 30th governor general of Canada in Ottawa on Monday, July 26, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

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.

Governor General installation ceremony

The entire Governor General installation ceremony as broadcast on CBC News on January 26, 2021. Mary Simon’s speech starts at 1:47:13.

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.”

Mary Simon takes part in the Signing of the Oath Registry after she took the oath to become the 30th Governor General of Canada in Ottawa on Monday, July 26, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

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.”

A typo was put into a quote by Governor General Mary Simon. The word ‘prices’ had been put in the following quote instead of ‘crises’: “The twin global crises of nature disruption and climate change are undoubtedly the challenge of our time.” This version has been corrected. 

Write to Eilís at 

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

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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