The morning of July 26 on Parliament Hill Mary Simon took her oaths of office and was sworn in as Canada’s 30th governor general, the country’s first Indigenous person to hold the position.
Born in Nunavik in 1947, Simon has had an extensive political career throughout her lifetime, culminating now in her position as Canada’s governor general, serving as the Queen’s new representative in Canada, following the resignation of Julie Payette in January.
Simon has served as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Makivik Corporation, has received the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s Northern Medal and was involved in the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreements, among many other accolades.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remarked during the ceremonies that this country needs more people like Simon.
“Your remarkable achievements are an example of what it means to build bridges to pursue the Canada of which we all aspire,” said Trudeau.
“A Canada of diversity and inclusion, a place where everyone is respected and where everyone can thrive. That is within our reach, thanks to leaders like Ms. Simon.”
Simon’s first language is Inuktitut, her second English and she has committed to learning Canada’s other official language, French.
She took part in the Nunavut Implementation Commission, the 1992 Charlottetown Accord discussions and was a part of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. She also took part in the First Ministers’ conferences starting in 1982, bringing her back to the very same room where she was sworn in.
“Thirty-nine years ago, back when this was the government conference center, I worked with other Indigenous leaders and first ministers to have our rights affirmed within the constitution of Canada,” said Simon.
“That moment made this one possible.”
She also thanked the Queen for placing her confidence in her to be her representative in Canada, saying “she has an abiding love for this magnificent country.”
In her speech during the swearing-in ceremony, she looked back at her time growing up as an Inuk in Canada.
“My story in these chambers began very far from here … I spent my adolescence in Nunavik and living a very traditional lifestyle with my parents, my mom Nancy was Inuk, my father Bob and my grandmother Jeanie who was also Inuk.”
“Many months out of the year, we lived out on the land, travelling by dog team and boat, hunting and fishing.”
Having to live in two worlds, both Inuit and non-Inuit, has brought her to where she is now and has highlighted the power she realized she had.
“When I came to understand my voice had power and others (were) looking at me to be their voice, I was able to let go of my fear,” said Simon.
Following the ceremony, Simon visited the National War Memorial where she inspected a Guard of Honour and laid flowers in honour of Canada’s fallen, her first act as governor general and commander-in-chief of Canada.