By James Rose
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mary Simon was officially sworn in last week as Canada’s 30th governor general — the first indigenous person ever to hold the position.

“I’m so proud of [Simon],” says Shuswap Band Chief Barb Cote. “What she’s accomplished as an indigenous woman, she’s done a lot in her life. This is a step forward for Canada.”

In the ceremony, Simon said Canadians need to learn the country’s real history in order to move forward with indigenous communities. “Our society must recognize together our moments of regret, alongside those that give us pride, because it creates space for healing, acceptance and the rebuilding of trust,” Simon said. “My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day. Reconciliation is getting to know one another.”

Simon, born Mary Jeannie May in Arctic Quebec, now known as Nunavik, brings an impressive resume to her new role as representative of Her Majesty The Queen in Canada. Her appointment follows a career that includes various positions as an advocate and ambassador. 

She helped negotiate the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 – a landmark deal between the Cree and Inuit in Quebec’s north, the provincial government and Hydro-Québec.

Simon was also an Inuit representative during the negotiations that led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982, which included an acknowledgement of indigenous treaty rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 1986, she led the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), a group created in 1977 to represent the Inuit in all the Arctic countries. At the ICC, she championed two priorities for northern indigenous peoples: protecting their way of life from environmental damage and pushing for responsible economic development on their traditional territory.

In 1994, former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed Simon as Canada’s first ambassador for circumpolar affairs. She was later appointed as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark.

While she is fully fluent in English and Inuktitut, Simon is not fluent in French. Traditionally, the governor general is expected to have a complete command of both official languages. Hundreds of French-speaking Canadians have written complaints to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. In her address, Simon reiterated her commitment to learning the French language.

On Thursday, Simon spoke with the Queen. In a short clip of the conversation posted on The Royal Family’s Instagram account, the Queen said it was good to speak with Simon. “You’re taking over a very important job.”