An Inuk woman and experienced leader, Mary Simon, will serve as the new Governor-General, becoming the first Indigenous person to be the Queen’s representative in Canada.

The appointment of Ms. Simon is taking a place at a time when the country is particularly focused on the issue of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including after the findings of unmarked burial sites at former residential schools. The institutions, in existence for more than 120 years in Canada, involved Indigenous children being forcibly removed from their homes and placed in settings that sought to eliminate their language and culture, as documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At an announcement in Gatineau, Que., Ms. Simon said Tuesday that said she understands as an Indigenous person “that there is pain and suffering across our nation. …

“We need to stop to fully recognize and memorialize and come to terms with the atrocities of our collective past that we are learning more about each day,” she said. “But when I was asked whether I would take on this important role, I was very excited and I felt that this was a position that would help Canadians together with Indigenous peoples and Canadians working together, which we call reconciliation.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday it is an honour to have Ms. Simon as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor-General. He said that on his recommendation that the Queen has approved the appointment of Ms. Simon.

“Today, after 154 years, our country takes a historic step,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment. With that, it is a true honour to introduce Canada’s Governor-General designate, Ms. Mary Simon.”

GLOBE BACKGROUND 50 SEC READ: What does the governor-general of Canada’s job involve?

Governors-general represent the Queen, Canada’s head of state, and carry out some of the key ceremonial functions that keep our constitutional monarchy running. Their duties include:

  • Dissolving and opening Parliament: When it’s time for a federal election, the governor-general starts the process. Then, when a new parliament begins, the governor-general reads the Throne Speech setting out the government’s priorities.
  • Political oaths: The governor-general administers the oaths of office to prime ministers, cabinet ministers and chief justices of the Supreme Court.
  • Royal assent: Once bills are approved by the House and Senate, they have to be assented to by the governor-general before they come into force. No governor-general has ever refused such assent.
  • Diplomatic duties: Abroad, governors-general represent Canada at state functions. At home, they play host to visiting foreign leaders and receive official documents from new ambassadors that allow them to take their posts.
  • Military duties: The governor-general is commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.

To perform these roles, governors-general have to be strictly non-partisan, though some have had careers in party politics before Rideau Hall (like Manitoba’s NDP premier Ed Schreyer).

Inuk advocate Mary Simon is the newest governor-general, the first Indigenous woman to hold the post, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on July 6. The previous governor-general, Julie Payette, quit before her term was up; read our full explainer to learn why.

Ms. Simon’s background includes previously serving as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), Canada’s national Inuit organization. She is known as an advocate of Inuit rights.

ITK said in a statement it extends its deepest congratulations to Ms. Simon. The organization said she has served Inuit and Canada in many distinguished roles, including as its president. ITK also said it wishes Ms. Simon success in her role at this critical time in history.

The president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) also said that Ms. Simon, who served as chair from 1986 to 1992, was instrumental in the development of key policies that helped shape the modern Arctic including the formation of the Arctic Council 25 years ago.

ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk said as Canada’s former ambassador to the Arctic and the former ambassador to Denmark that Ms. Simon understands the challenges faced by Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

“Canada has appointed a skilled diplomat to a position that can contribute to the reconciliation process Canada is engaged in,” said Ms. Ell-Kanayuk. “Her international contributions to the support and enhancement of Indigenous human rights are significant.”

Ms. Simon speaks Inuktitut and English but she said she is committed to learning French.

“Based on my experience growing up in Quebec, I was denied the chance to learn French during my time in the federal government day schools,” she said.

“I am deeply committed to continuing my French language studies and plan to conduct the business of the governor general in both of Canada’s official languages as well as Inuktitut, one of many Indigenous languages spoken across the country.”

She also said her appointment comes at a reflective and dynamic time in history.

“During my time as Governor-General, I will work every day towards promoting healing and wellness across Canadian society,” Ms. Simon said.

She also said she hopes her appointment will send a strong message to women about the need to take on leadership roles.

“To all the women and girls out there, please know that we need more of your voices and perspectives in leadership positions across this country,” she said. “I hope you use my appointment to believe with increased conviction that anything is possible.”

The Native Women’s Association of Canada said that Ms. Simon has been a human-rights activist and an outspoken champion of her people.

Outgoing National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde, who had called for the next Governor-General to Indigenous, said on Twitter that Ms. Simon is a diplomat, advocate, and a strong Inuk woman.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, experts said that much is at take to ensure an appropriate person is named to the role of Governor-General following the resignation in January of Julie Payette. Ms. Payette left her role amid allegations of aggressive conduct and public humiliations of staff that were documented in an independent workplace review.

The departure was seen as a major disruption at Rideau Hall during a pandemic, a recession and while the country faces a possible federal election.

In March, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced the establishment of the advisory group on the selection of the next governor-general to help with identifying potential candidates to fill the vacant office. The advisory group included Daniel Jutras, the rector of the Université de Montréal, Judith LaRocque, the former secretary to the governor-general, Natan Obed, the President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and Suromitra Sanatani, the interim chair of the board at Canada Post.

Mr. Trudeau said there were close to 100 different names vetted and reflected on before the advisory group got to a “small number of incredible Canadians who could serve. …

“The responsibilities of the office, the capacity to both lead and serve, an approach that is anchored in humility and thoughtfulness in everything they do was some of the top things that we looked at,” he said. “it was obvious that Mary Simon embodied all those qualities of leadership and service.”

Ms. Simon said she will soon have an opportunity to have a full briefing from the Secretary to the Governor-General, Ian McCowan, and she looks forward to learning in more about the office and the team at Rideau Hall.

“I am fully committed to setting and maintaining the highest standard of work ethics in all aspects of my duty,” she said. “I take very seriously my role and as champion for the cultural and linguistic diversity that makes Canada unique.”

The Globe and Mail, July 6, 2021