First Inuit appointed as Canadian Governor General | Polarjournal
Mary Simons is the first Inuit representative and the first Indigenous representative ever to be appointed Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Canada. The 74-year-old ex-diplomat hails from Nunavik, the Arctic part of the province of Quebec. Image: Screenshot CBC News

Canada is currently being shaken up by more than just the COVID pandemic. The colonial past and its dark chapters also make for negative headlines. Especially the findings of children’s graves on the grounds of former mission schools show how indigenous peoples of Canada had been treated in former times. Now, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a step toward reconciliation and recognition of Indigenous people by recommending an Inuit representative for Governor General of Canada for the first time in the country’s history. The recommendation was accepted by Queen Elizabeth II.

“This morning I can announce that, following my recommendation, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has confirmed the appointment of Mary Simon as the 30th Governor General.”

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

At a news conference at the Canadian Museum of History yesterday, Tuesday, the prime minister announced the appointment of 64-year-old Mary Simons as the Queen’s representative. According to him, the diplomat and Inuit representative was selected from about 100 candidates. “Canada is a country defined by its people. (…) Frankly, we need more leaders like Ms. Simon in high office. People who understand what it means to take on real issues and create positive change. And that’s exactly what brings us here today,” Prime Minister Trudeau told the media. “This morning I can announce that, following my recommendation, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has confirmed the appointment of Mary Simon as the 30th Governor General.”

Prime Minister Trudeau (left) at the Canadian Museum of History with Mary Simon. While he leads the country’s political fortunes as prime minister, she is formally the representative of Canada’s official head of state, the Queen of Canada, Queen Elizabeth II. Image: screenshot CBC

Mary Simon is no stranger to Canadian politics and her appointment as Governor General is not just the result of her background. The top diplomat, who hails from a small town in Nunavik, the Arctic north of the province of Quebec, has had numerous opportunities to demonstrate her exceptional skills in the past. She was instrumental in the creation of the Arctic Council, was a member of the Inuit Circumpolar Council for decades, advocated for more Inuit rights at the national level as chair of the powerful Inuit organizations Makivik Corp and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and was the first Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and Canadian Ambassador to Denmark. Despite her experiences, the new role of representing the Crown in Canada is something exciting for her as well. In her new role, she represents not only the Crown, but all of Canada. In addition, she is now formally the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces and also has non-partisan functions in addition to ceremonial duties. Canada, like many other Commonwealth countries, is a parliamentary monarchy, with political power in the hands of Parliament and the Prime Minister. At the same time, however, the Queen of the United Kingdom (i.e. Queen Elizabeth II) is the Queen of Canada and thus the official head of state of the country, and the new Governor General is her deputy.

Mary Simon’s appointment comes at a time when Canada is at a turning point in terms of coming to terms with its colonial past. She sees herself as a mediator and wants to bring the Indigenous way of life and culture to all Canadians, while connecting all Canadians. Video: globalnews.ca

The appointment of an Indigenous representative to this high office is unique for Canada and comes just at a time when Canada is confronted with the need to come to terms with its colonial past and its treatment of the Indigenous population. The discovery of hundreds of children’s graves on the grounds of former missionary schools, as well as other incidents in the Canadian Arctic, had startled and shown that Canada, too, must come to terms with its history and its dealings with the indigenous population and put them on a new level. Prime Minister Trudeau also made this clear in his speech. He called Simon’s appointment a “historic and inspiring moment for Canada” and an important step toward reconciliation with the past.

I think if people understand each other in this way and respect one another, then this is what we call reconciliation.

Mary Simon, Governor General Designate of Canada

Numerous representatives of indigenous organizations and politicians also welcomed the appointment, calling it a historic moment for all Canadians. Mary Simon also sees her role as Governor General as, among other things, building bridges between the North and the South to ensure a true reconciliation of cultures within Canada: “II felt that this position would help Canadians together with Indigenous people, working together … bringing people together to understand our unique history, our unique cultures and way of life. And I think if people understand each other in this way and respect one another, then this is what we call reconciliation.”

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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