Inuit woman and former diplomat Mary Simon became the first Indigenous woman to represent Queen Elizabeth II in Canada on Monday, July 26, promising to work for the “Reconciliation” in a country rocked by the residential school scandal.
“It is with humility that I am ready to become Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General”, she said in her first official speech Monday, during the Senate installation ceremony in Ottawa. “I will strive to build bridges between the various origins and cultures that reflect the uniqueness and promise of our great country”, said the 74-year-old Inuit woman, who is committed to “Represent all Canadians”.
Gray hair bobbed, dressed in a black dress, Mary Simon was sworn in in a sober ceremony attended unlike usual by only 44 guests, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, due to the pandemic of Covid-19. Evoking a “Historic day” for Canada, the new Governor General added that reconciliation, far from easy, required a “Daily effort”.
Confronted with dark pages of his past
His assumption of office comes at a crucial time for Canada, faced with the dark pages of its past and its policy of assimilation. Tens of thousands of Native American, Métis and Inuit children were forcibly conscripted into residential schools for Native people in the late 19th century.e century to the 1990s, separated from their families and their culture. Thousands never returned.
Referring to this reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, Justin Trudeau said he had “Looking forward to work” with Mme Simon “To build a better country for everyone”. “We need people like Mary Simon, because we need people who build bridges and bring us together”, he added.
Born in 1947, this Inuit native of Nunavik (northern Quebec), who was Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs, then to Denmark, has defended the rights and culture of her people all her life.
Speaking in English, Inuktitut and a little French, the former activist for indigenous rights recalled that she had learned to live between ” two worlds “. Often attacked since her appointment on her non-mastery of French, one of the two official languages of the country, she has once again committed to learning it.
The new Governor General, who has made the defense of the Arctic one of her workhorses, also spoke of the climate crisis. “Canada is disproportionately impacted by climate change because the Arctic is warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet”, explained the one who is the fifth woman to officially represent Elizabeth II, the head of state of Canada.
Her appointment is a very political gesture since she has above all protocol functions: she is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, officially promulgates laws and summons or dissolves Parliament.
For Thierry Rodon, professor of political science at Laval University in Quebec City, “It is one more step towards a symbolic reconciliation”. More “The Governor General has no power over public policy so it will not change the issue of access to drinking water, the decolonization of the relationship established by Indian law, the primacy of economic development over indigenous rights… ”
On Thursday, Mary Simon spoke with Queen Elizabeth II via video conference. She is appointed for five years and succeeds Julie Payette, who resigned in January after accusations of harassment in her office.