For the first time ever, the role of Canada’s Governor General will be filled by an Indigenous leader.
Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that the appointment of Mary Simon, whose Inuk name is Ningiukudluk, has been approved by Queen Elizabeth II. She will now act as the representative to all Crown Matters.
The role is not political in nature, but Simon has said there are important responsibilities in the position and she believes she can help the country move towards reconciliation.
The appointment has been met with excitement by many, but some have questioned the timing of the appointment with Indigenous issues in Canada being at the forefront of news and political conversations.
Candace Lloyd, a Metis Traditional Knowledge Holder with the Nookoom Learning Centre in Napanee, is cautiously optimistic about the news.
“I want to believe this is something to bring truth and reconciliation to the forefront, to bring our Indigenous community and awareness to the forefront, but I also have to take this from where the timing is,” Lloyd says.
“When I look at this appointment, not disputing that this woman is going to do a fantastic job, or that she’s going to just knock the position apart and bring all the awareness we need forward… but how can I not think that these things might very well be another token?”
Lloyd added that she is hopeful as a traditional speaker of the Inuktitut language, Simon-who made her opening remarks in Inuktitut- will be able to help emphasize the importance of revitalizing Indigenous languages in the country.
The Inuk leader has been a part of key negotiations including the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, and also played a leading role in the establishment of the Arctic Council. In 1975, Simon was pivotal in negotiating the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement between the region’s Cree and Inuit, the provincial government, and Hydro-Québec.
She formerly served two terms as the President of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, whose current President Naten Obed shared the following statement in regards to Simon’s appointment.
“Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami extends its deepest congratulations to Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General! 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.”
Mary Simon has been questioned about not being fluent in French, including by Conservative Senator Claud Clarignan. In a news release Carignan questions how “it is appropriate to appoint a governor general who will not be able to speak to more than eight million French speaking citizens of Canada?”
As a survivor of the Fort Chimo federal day school, Simon says she was never given the opportunity to study French but also vows to learn the language while on the job.
The move also comes amidst speculation that parliament may be dissolved to call a summer election, an action that would be granted by the new Governor General.
Indigenous Chiefs around Canada have extended their support of the appointment and hope Simon can help play a healing role. Chief Don Maracle, of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte added his approval.
“I have never met Mary Simon but understand she has worked in diplomatic responsibilities. The Mohawks are among the oldest long standing allies of the Crown since the 1664 Covenant Chain of Friendship, Peace and Military Alliance. I am pleased to see an Indigenous person appointed as Governor General for Canada and wish Ms. Simon much success in her appointment. This writes yet a better chapter in Canada’s history.”
Maracle added in a phone call that he’s hopeful the new Governor General is committed to reconciliatory action.
“We need more than empathy and words, I hope she’s committed to eliminating racism everywhere. What we do today will be tomorrow’s history, everybody has a role in rewriting that history.”
A timetable for Simon assuming the role has not yet been given.