Canada names Mary Simon as first Indigenous governor general

Simon, an ex-diplomat and longtime Inuit rights advocate, says appointment is ‘important step’ towards reconciliation.

Originally from Nunavik, the traditional Inuit territory in northern Quebec, Simon has a long history of fighting for Inuit rights in Canada [Patrick Doyle/Reuters]

Indigenous leader Mary Simon will be Canada’s 30th governor general, becoming the first Indigenous person to hold the largely ceremonial role in the country’s history.

In a news conference on Tuesday morning, Simon said she was “honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general”.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” she told reporters alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made the announcement.

“Ms Simon’s career of leadership and service has always been one of breaking down barriers,” Trudeau said.

The news comes as Indigenous people across Canada are reeling from the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools that the government forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children to attend for decades.

Canada’s previous governor general, Julie Payette, stepped down in January after a report found that she had created a toxic workplace environment.

Originally from Nunavik, the traditional Inuit territory in northern Quebec, Simon has a long history of fighting for Inuit rights in Canada.

She previously worked with the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (NQIA), which was later renamed the Makivik Corporation, and also served as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), a national Inuit organisation.

In 1991, she was named a member of the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest honours, and later an officer of the Order of Canada. She also served as Canada’s ambassador for circumpolar affairs and as ambassador to Denmark.

Inuit welcomed Simon’s appointment on Tuesday. “Mary has served Inuit and Canada in many distinguished roles, including as President of ITK. We wish her extraordinary success in her role at this critical time in our history,” Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami wrote on Twitter.

“Really proud of Mary Simon being the new GG,” Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril also tweeted. “Mary has accomplished a lifetime of *incredible* work and leadership for Inuit.”

Perry Bellegarde, the outgoing national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, also offered his congratulations.  “Mary is a diplomat, advocate, and a strong Inuk Woman. I look forward to working with her as the Crown’s representative in Canada!” he said.

“Mary Simon is an outstanding choice for GG, with a long list of accomplishments,” Hayden King, executive director of the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led research centre, tweeted. “But, to be clear, this is the HEIGHT of symbolic Indigenous representation in Canada. Here, have the most important and powerful role in Parliament…on paper.”

The governor general role is largely ceremonial and includes duties such as summoning and dissolving parliament and giving royal assent to bring parliamentary bills into law, among others.

Source: Al Jazeera