In a historic first, Inuk woman Mary Simon will become Canada’s first Indigenous person to hold the position of Governor General.
Simon’s appointment was announced on Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Today, after 154 years, our country takes a historic step, I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment,” he said.
He noted the appointment will “help continue paving that path ahead, and we will be stronger for it”.
Simon is now the Governor General Designate and once appointed Governor General, she will outrank the Prime Minister himself, sitting second to the Queen in federal office.
Simon began her acceptance speech in Inuktitut and thanked both the Prime Minister and the Queen for their recommendations.
“I believe we can build the hopeful future in a way that is respectful of what has happened in the past,” she said.
“If we embrace our common humanity and shared responsibility for one another, Canada’s greatest days are yet to come.”
Hailing from Nunavik in northern Quebec, Simon has a long history of advocating for the Inuit community.
Her CV includes a radio host role with CBC North, Chair of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Chair of the National Inuit Education committee.
Simon has worked with the Canadian Government on projects including the original North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Charlottetown Accord, the repatriation of the Constitution, and the implementation of Canada’s first land claims policy.
No stranger to firsts, Simon was also the first Inuk person to be an ambassador for Canada in the area of circumpolar affairs and was the first Inuk ambassador to Denmark.
Simon steps into her role amidst the numerous discoveries of unmarked graves of First Nations peoples at the former sites of Indian Residential Schools.
She noted her appointment occurs in a particularly “reflective and dynamic time” in the nation’s shared history.
“During my time as Governor General, I will work every day promoting healing and wellness across Canadian society,” she said.
Simon’s appointment has been widely supported with President of Inuit Tapirit Kanatami, Natan Obed, telling CTV News Simon is “uniquely suited” for the position.
“She is not somebody that is going to act irrationally, or to be somebody that is going to offend. She is going to be welcoming,” said Obed.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) also expressed their support in a statement.
“The Federal Government has made an excellent choice in selecting Ms Simon as vice-regal representative of the Monarch,” the statement said.
“She has been a human-rights activist and outspoken champion of her people.”
However, both Obed and NWAC expressed their concerns about Simon being an Indigenous person stepping into such a role.
The organisation noted Simon steps into a senior position in a “colonial system of governance”.
“Not all Indigenous Canadians are going to be thrilled that there’s an Indigenous Governor General,” said Obed.
“There’s still a lot of work to do on Reconciliation … there are relationships between Indigenous peoples and the Crown that still require really difficult solutions and a change in the status quo.”
Simon addressed the tension saying that as an Indigenous woman she understands that “there is pain and suffering across our nation”.
“But when I was asked whether I would take on this important role, I was very excited … This is what we call Reconciliation, and it’s a lifelong experience.”
It is yet to be confirmed when Simon will officially begin her role.
By Rachael Knowles