There was something extra to celebrate on Nunavut Day this year. Nunavik’s Mary Simon became the first Indigenous person to be appointed as governor general, just a few days before the territory’s celebrations on July 9.
Indigenous leaders across the country applauded the decision, which comes at a fraught time for the nation’s relationship with its First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
As Kivalliq Inuit Association President Kono Tattuinee said in a July 7 statement, “Her appointment will help us move forward in the spirit of true reconciliation.”
The daughter of a fur trader father with the Hudson’s Bay Company and an Inuit mother, Simon’s identity reflects the cultural crossroads where Canada finds itself as it comes to terms with graves of children that continue to be dug up at former residential schools, and the traumatic legacy left in their wake.
But Simon’s pedigree goes much further than her identity. She’s no stranger to politics and has the resume to back it up. She served as Canada’s first ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs from 1994 to 2004, and was the lead negotiator for the creation of the Arctic Council.
She also served as the Canadian ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2002.
These may not be the most important political positions but they are more impressive than those of former governor general Julie Payette, whose main claim to fame was going to space. And we all know how that appointment played out, with Payette becoming the first governor general to resign due to scandal, because of her callous mistreatment of her staff.
In contrast to Payette, Simon is a leader who has shown tremendous empathy and interest in advancing the rights of women and Indigenous people. These are the kinds of qualities that are in dire need in Canada at the moment.
The largest criticism that has so far been levelled against Simon is her inability to speak French.
Simon herself responded to the critique by saying that she is indeed bilingual. As she told reporters, “My bilingualism is in Inuktitut and English.”
The imposition of French at the expense of the country’s many Indigenous languages is something that reeks of hypocrisy and it’s good to see Simon sticking it to the naysayers.
Besides, even though she never had the chance to learn French at the federal day school she attended, Simon has committed to trying to learn the language.
There is, of course, the question as to whether Canada needs an governor general anymore, or a queen for that matter.
Given the increasing momentum toward distancing Canada’s future from its colonial past, there is hope that one day the country’s ties to its the monarchy will be fully dissolved.
In the meantime, Simon will serve as a beacon for true reconciliation.