Throughout Mary Simon’s entire career, she has never wavered in her goal of advocating for Inuit rights and culture, as well as the Arctic region itself. Now, after being sworn in on July 26, 2021 as the first Indigenous person to be governor general, she’s began another role towards which she can contribute her determination and strong work ethic.
Simon is an Inuk woman, born in Kangisualuujjuaq, Nunavik, Quebec, who then grew up in Kuujiuag, Quebec. Being the oldest daughter in her family, she grew up with three sisters and four brothers. After finishing grade six, her father then began home schooling her. In the 1970s, she began her work for the CBC Northern Service as a radio broadcaster, but knew she wanted to pursue a career that gave her more opportunities to advocate for people in the Arctic region.
In 1982, Simon worked with other Indigenous leaders in negotiating for the patriation of the Canadian Constitution that furthered treaty rights in the supreme law. After serving two terms as President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now the Inuit Circumpolar Council), she began her role as the Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs. Simon held that position from 1994 to 2003 and was also the first Inuk person to do so. During her time there, she contributed to the negotiations that started the Arctic Council in 1996. By doing so, she helped establish a way for governments and Indigenous people to cooperate and address their needs. At the same time, Simon was also the Ambassador of Canada to Denmark from 1999 to 2001.
In June of 2008, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave a formal apology to Indigenous people for the abuse and actions by the Canadian government in residential schools, Simon was present. She then spoke on behalf of Inuit people with regard to that apology. Simon is also a co-founder of the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation that’s focused on helping the Arctic youth.
Among her other achievements, Simon is an Officer of the Order of Canada and an Officer of l’Ordre national du Québec (The National Order of Quebec). She is also a recipient of the Governor General’s Northern Medal, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and the Symons Medal.
In a time when there has been a huge focus on Canada’s historical mistreatment of Indigenous people, Simon’s appointment is important. During her swearing-in ceremony, she is quoted saying, “We have learned as a country that we need to learn the real history of Canada. Embracing the truth makes us strong as a nation, unites Canadian society, and teaches our kids that we must always do our best, especially when it is hard.”
Simon also has great support from her community, family, and friends as she begins her role as governor general. In an article with the CBC, her younger sister Madge Pomerleau said, “I’m sure she’s going to do a great job, she’s got that special touch.”
Claire Bradbury | Contributing Writer
Photo credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall © OSGG-BSGG, 2021