Canada’s Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s visit highlights Nunavik’s cultural vibrancy

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon plays the accordion during a community gathering Tuesday in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Que. Her five-day trip to Nunavik last week highlighted the region’s cultural vibrancy, and her strong role in helping it flourish. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Mary Simon is the first Inuk Governor General and she recently travelled through her home region

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon wrapped up her visit to Nunavik having met with hundreds of people and highlighted Inuit culture and community-centred programs, and even travelled to her home community.

The visit kicked off in Kuujjuaq, where Simon met with Inuit leaders and community members.

CBC North’s Pauline Pemik followed Simon’s visit, which Simon described as a homecoming.

“As we were descending it brought me back to my childhood and how excited we would be coming home,” she said.

Simon shakes hands with well wishers as she arrives in Inukjuak, Que. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

First on the agenda, a visit with Makivik Corp., the lead Inuit organization for Nunavik which was established to represent Inuit under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern comprehensive land claim in Canada.

Simon met with the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq school board and Qarjuit Youth Council, which were all formed through the agreement.

They discussed education, self-determination, wellness and mental health.

Simon headed to Kattitavik town hall, where Canadian Rangers greeted her before her meeting with the Mayor.

Simon shakes hands with students lining the hall as she arrives at the Innalik school Thursday in Inukjuak. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Simon had a lunch provided by Lucy Johannes from the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre, the only family healing facility in the North which offers recovery programs for Inuit.

Isuarsivik blends Inuit traditional practices with modern additions and trauma treatment. It was founded in 1994 but shut down in the early 2000s due to funding issues. It recently won the Arctic Inspiration Prize.

Simon heard from Inuit who have taken the program, which is designed by and for Inuit, has transformed their lives and helped them reach sobriety.

A woman hold up her phone to a photo with Simon as she arrives at the airport in Inukjuak, Que. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Simon later went to the Jaanimmarik High School where she met with students.

“What did you have to do to become governor general?” one of the children asked, prompting laughter in the room.

Simon also visited Elders at the Tusaajiapik Elders’ Home.

Simon used her visit to Nunavik to highlight the disparities in internet access for Nunavut communities, and to the marginalization of Indigenous languages.

Flying home

Simon also flew home to her birthplace, Kangiqsualujjuaq, where she visited with Elders, went to the Ulluriaq School and to the National Kuururjuaq Park.

Simon met with staff and the board of directors for Qarmaapik House, a safe house for parents and children to keep families together and reduce the number of Inuit children entering the child welfare system.

Simon watches a demonstration on making rope for dog sled harnesses from seal as she visits the Unaaq Men’s Association Thursday in Inukjuak. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The program staff told Simon and her husband Whit Fraser about their challenges getting started in 2016. The safe house has mental health services, a kitchen and programming.

Qarmaapik also does the job of educating a transient workforce of child protection workers and police on the services they provide, and they’re training people across Nunavik communities to build the same resources there.

She wrapped up the day with a celebration with friends and family, where she played the accordion.

To Inukjuak

The final leg of her trip to Kangirsuk was cancelled due to bad weather, but Simon made it to Inukjuak.

There, Simon visited the Avataq Cultural Institute and the Unaaq Men’s Association and the school.

She served up food at the community feast, and met with youth and Elders, before making her final stop in Kuujjuaq.

-With files from Pauline Pemik and the Canadian Press

Related stories from around the North: 

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

Avery Zingel, CBC News

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