Inuit say they’re hopeful a new Inuk Governor General will prompt positive change and better communication between the federal government and Indigenous communities across the country.
Mary Simon, who grew up in both Kangiqsualujjuaq and Kuujjuaq, was appointed Tuesday as Canada’s next Governor General, the first Indigenous person to be named to be the Queen’s representative in Canada.
Many Inuit expressed pride in seeing someone they consider a mentor take on such a prominent role.
Lucy Abraham, an Inuk woman from Nunavik, was coming out of a meeting in her Kuujjuaq office Tuesday morning when she noticed the congratulatory messages popping up on her social media feed.
“It is indeed a wonderful feeling to finally have someone representing us Indigenous people,” Abraham said.
“Being an Inuk woman, it means a lot that an Inuk woman will be in this position. Many young women will look up to her since she is a great role model.”
The news felt extra personal to Abraham, who is Simon’s saunik, or namesake. Abraham’s middle name is Mary, given to her by her grandmother, who was a relative of Simon’s late mother, Nancy May.
“Inuit name our children after someone who means a lot to us,” she said.
In a news conference following her appointment Tuesday morning, Simon described her new position as an apolitical one — above the fray of elected politics — but said the job comes with many opportunities to build the working relationship between Canadians and Indigenous people.
Kativik Regional Government chairperson Jennifer Munick said many Nunavimmiut have always looked up to Simon as a strong advocate for Inuit rights and culture.
“Mary Simon has been my role model in her dedication to the promotion of the reconciliation process and the self-determination of the Inuit of Nunavik,” Munick said in a news release.
“We are convinced that her nomination will serve as an inspiration for Indigenous people who have had to deal with major crises in recent years.”
Until her appointment as Governor General, Simon was the senior negotiator with Makivik Corp., helping Nunavik negotiate a plan for self-determination with the federal and provincial governments.
Makivik president Pita Aatami said Simon’s new role would continue to support those efforts.
“Simon brings a wealth of experience to this position,” Aatami in a news release. “Having an Indigenous person as the Crown’s representative in Canada sends a strong message to the nation, and to the international community.
“This comes at an important time in our history as we collectively work towards reconciliation.”
Simon herself once served as president of Makivik Corp. She is also a former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a former ambassador to Denmark, Canada’s first ambassador to the Arctic and played an important role in the creation of the Arctic Council.
“I’m building on what Mary has done,” said Natan Obed, ITK’s current president.
Obed also sat on the advisory committee that submitted the names of potential Governor General candidates to the Prime Minister’s Office for consideration.
“I was pleased to add hers to the conversation,” Obed said. “Mary’s record, her demeanor is something that impresses those who interact with her.
“I think Mary is an ideal Governor General for this place and time — as an Inuk, as somebody who has had a long career with the federal government but also someone who has represented Canada as an ambassador.”
Simon, 74, spoke at a Tuesday news conference, opting to open her remarks in Inuktitut and introducing herself by her Inuit name, Ningiukadlak.
“Hearing her first words in Inuktitut, proudly stating where she’s from and who her family members are — that just changes the game for so many people who might not imagine themselves in leadership roles,” Obed said.
“Her identities and her values will be on full display for the time she serves. And I think Inuit can be proud that Mary is there representing our culture.”
Simon’s appointment has been approved by Queen Elizabeth, on the Prime Minister’s recommendation, though she has yet to be officially installed in the role.
The Governor General is the Queen’s representative in Canada and acts as head of state.
Simon takes on a position that had been vacant since January, when former governor general Julie Payette resigned from the office following a workplace harassment investigation.