Simon first Indigenous governor general

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Mary Simon is the first Indigenous person to become Canada’s governor general.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2021 (401 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mary Simon is the first Indigenous person to become Canada’s governor general.

She was appointed Canada’s 31st governor general on Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., in which the theme of healing long-standing divides figured prominently.

An Inuk leader and former diplomat, she described her appointment as Canada’s next governor general — the first Indigenous person to serve in the role — as a, “step forward on the long path to reconciliation.”

Mary Simon and her husband Whit Fraser leave after an announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday. Simon, an Inuk leader and former diplomat, has been named as Canada’s next governor general — the first Indigenous person to serve in the role. (The Canadian Press)

Simon was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec. She is a well-known advocate for Inuit culture and rights and is the former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national advocacy organization for Inuit.

Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) Grand Chief Jerry Daniels was pleased to see an Indigenous person appointed to the position.

“While the role of governor general is mostly ceremonial in nature, it’s not lost on us, that having an Indigenous person at Rideau Hall marks another major step forward in the repairing our battered relationships with the Crown and its governments,” he said in a statement.

Simon was instrumental in negotiating the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975. That deal is often referred to as the first “modern treaty” in Canada, Daniels said.

In 1986, Simon led the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), which represents Inuit people in all the Arctic countries. In that role, she championed two priorities for Indigenous Peoples of the North: protecting their way of life from environmental damage and pushing for responsible economic development on their traditional territory, he said.

Simon was also named as Canada’s first Arctic Ambassador by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 2002. She was made an Officer of the Order of Canada as well as a recipient of the Governor General’s Northern Award.”

“Almost all of Mary Simon’s professional career has been dedicated to advocating for Indigenous rights,” Daniels said.

“In what is amounting to be a very difficult year for First Nation people given the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites, this announcement comes as very welcome news,” he added.

Simon served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark.

Reflecting on her Inuk background, Simon made her first public remarks as governor general-designate in Inuktitut before switching to English, thanking Trudeau for the “historic opportunity to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and is an inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” she said while reflecting on having grown up with an Inuk mother and a father from southern Canada.

Simon’s appointment caps a nearly six-month search for a new governor general after the former governor general, Julie Payette, resigned in January following a scathing independent report on the work environment at Rideau Hall during her tenure.

One of Simon’s duties could soon include dissolving Parliament to trigger an election upon the prime minister’s request, which many believe could happen before the summer is out.

Both Trudeau and Simon said they have not discussed the issue.

» kkielley@brandonsun.com, with files from The Canadian Press

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