Inuit Mary Simons first Indigenous Governor General
- NC Raine | July 29, 2021
Mary Simon, Canada's 30th Governor General, and first of Indigenous heritage, used her opening moments as Governor General to speak about the unifying power of education, understanding and how she hopes to foster that unity in Canada.
“We have learned as a country the need to learn the real history of Canada. Embracing this truth makes us stronger as a nation, unites Canadian society and teaches our kids we must always do our best, especially when it's hard,” said Simon during her speech in the Senate chambers in July 26.
“My view is Reconciliation is a way of life and requires work everyday. Reconciliation is getting to know one another.”
Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, was installed as Governor General in Ottawa, where she will serve as the representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II. She is the fifth woman to fill the role.
Born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik (the Northern portion of Quebec, homeland of the Inuit), Simon has served as an advocate for Inuit rights and culture, actively involved in negotiations that led to the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution that formally enshrined Indigenous and treaty rights into the supreme law of Canada.
Simon is also a former broadcaster for CBC Northern Service, lead negotiator for the creation of the Arctic Council, and Canada's first ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs.
In the Senate chamber, during her swearing-in ceremony, she reflected on how her career has come full circle.
“Where we gather today is of enormous significance to me. Thirty-nine years ago, when this was the government conference centre, I worked with other Indigenous leaders and First Ministers to have our rights affirmed in the Constitution of Canada. That moment made this one possible,” said Simon.
Simon also reflected on what she credits as her best memories, growing up fishing, and hunting on the land, traveling by sled-dog or boat, lying in her tent with her family, listening to the birds and their dogs.
“What I value most about our upbringing is my parents teaching my siblings and I how to live in two worlds: the Inuit world and the non-Inuit, southern world. This foundation of core values has both served and shaped me throughout my life, and helped me get to the important turning point as a young girl when I stopped being afraid,” she said.
Simon also spoke on de-stigmatizing mental health, pledged to help the country deal with the historical mistreatment of Indigenous people – a reality that has received increased attention following the findings of unmarked graves at former residential schools – and the need to address climate change.
“The twin global crises of nature destruction and climate change are undoubtedly the challenge of our time. For evidence, we need only look at the arctic and what has happened this month across the country: the devastating impacts of forest fires, prolonged droughts, and record heat waves,” she said.
“In order to have a healthy future, we must reset our thinking to understand that nature contains and creates our climate. Our climate allows our society to be possible. And without our society is our economy. As Governor General, I will promote and recognize leading examples of community and Indigenous-driven conservation and climate action that are making a real difference and can inspire other Canadians to do the same.”
In a light-hearted moment with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Simon said her name, in her native tongue of Inuktitut, means “bossy little old lady.”
“Today, as our country takes this major step, I am certain that we have gained a leader that will ensure the changes we see are built on hope, justice, and a better future that each and everyone one of us will benefit from,” said Trudeau.
“In Canada, perhaps more than any other place on earth, we are defined by our diversity,” he said. “This is a big place, this is a diverse place. So we need people like Ms. Simon because we need people to build bridges and bring us together.”