Inuit culture highlighted as Mary Simon takes office as Governor General

‘My Inuktitut name is Ningiukudluk, and Prime Minister, it means bossy little old lady,’ Simon said, eliciting laughter

Governor General Mary Simon arrives with her husband Whit Fraser at the Senate building in downtown Ottawa on Monday. Greg Peters, Usher of the Black Rod, is pictured at right. (Photo by Mike Carroccetto, special to Nunatsiaq News)

By Sarah Rogers

Nunavik songwriter Elisapie performs her song Arnaq during the ceremony. (Image courtesy of Uvagut TV)

Mary Simon assumed office as Canada’s new Governor General Monday morning following a scaled down, Inuit-focused ceremony at the Senate building in Ottawa.

The prominent Nunavik Inuk leader and diplomat was named to the post earlier this month, making her the country’s first Indigenous Governor General.

“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together,” Simon said in a speech she delivered in English, French and Inuktitut.

“I have heard from Canadians who have challenged me to bring a new and renewed purpose to the office of the Governor General to help Canadians deal with the issues they are facing.”

Simon pledged to use her new platform to promote reconciliation, climate action and mental wellness, drawing links between all three.

She quoted a passage from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report: “Reconciliation must support Aboriginal peoples as they heal from the destructive legacies of colonization that have wreaked such havoc in their lives.”

“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” she said. “Reconciliation is getting to know one another.

Governor General Mary Simon, her husband Whit Fraser, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie listen to the Ottawa River Singers outside the Senate building in downtown Ottawa. Greg Peters, Usher of the Black Rod is pictured at right. (Photo by Mike Carroccetto)

“As Governor General, I will promote and recognize leading examples of community and Indigenous-driven conservation and of climate action that are making a real difference and can inspire other Canadians to do the same.”

Simon spoke to an audience of about 40 people seated the Senate building — a trimmed down crowd due to COVID-19 restrictions.

She wore a black dress and jacket designed by Victoria Okpik of Quaqtaq, with neckline beadwork done by Julie Grenier of Kuujjuaq.

Simon talked about her childhood memories growing up, camping and harvesting along the George River near Kangiqsualujjuaq, and later in Kuujjuaq — moments she said helped shape her core values.

“My Inuktitut name is Ningiukudluk, and Prime Minister, it means bossy little old lady,” Simon said in her speech, eliciting laughter.

The ceremony incorporated other elements of Inuit culture: it opened with a qulliq lighting ceremony and closed with a traditional drum dance. Salluit-raised singer Elisapie also performed a moving rendition of her song Arnaq during the event.

[SLIDESHOW: From Nunavik to Rideau Hall]

Simon brings extensive experience and leadership to the role of Governor General. She has served as president of Makivik Corp., Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit Circumpolar Council and as ambassador for circumpolar affairs.

She was also involved in the negotiations leading to the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution.

“Thirty-nine years ago, when this was a government conference centre, we worked to have our rights affirmed in the Constitution of Canada,” she recalled. “That moment made this one possible.”

Simon also acknowledged the criticism around her lack of fluency in French, reading passages of her speech in that language.

“I have heard from Canadians who have expressed their support in my commitment to learn French, and have even offered to assist me in my training,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded Simon’s vision of building bridges between Canada’s different cultural and linguistic groups.

“I know that she will contribute her unique experience and perspective to representing Canadians in all their diversity, both here at home and abroad, with dignity and integrity, and in both of Canada’s official languages,” Trudeau said during the Monday ceremony.

“We need your vision of a stronger Canada.”

Following the ceremony, Simon travelled to Rideau Hall, where she’ll live with her husband, retired broadcaster Whit Fraser, and dog, Neva. The couple also plans to spend some time living and working at the Citadelle in Quebec City.

The Governor General acts as the Queen’s representative in Canada. As a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II serves as the country’s head of state.

The Governor General is responsible for carrying out a number of ceremonial and constitutional duties, serving as the commander-in-chief of the military and representing Canada at home and abroad.

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by M Center on

    Congratulations Inuit.

  2. Posted by Pierre Guinard on

    She will be awsome!

  3. Posted by R Huezo on

    I’m glad that the ceremony included highlights of Inuit culture. This is an important part of Canada and deserves a spotlight.

  4. Posted by Curious on

    Congratulations Mary Simon! I was a very proud inuk during your ceremony. You deserve this role.

    But at the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder if this was a race thing, to sidetrack the nation of the ugly past that is coming back, with all the findings of the residential schools.

    Not to mention the queen taking 10 indigenous students from a school in BC, and then them not returning! What happened to these 10 humans that had family members at home waiting for their return? did the queen herself hurt them?

    I wonder if Mary Simon will ask her what happened to these humans who have family wondering what happened to them!

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      Can you post a link to the info around these 10 kids? I’ve never heard of this but would like to know more about it.

  5. Posted by C. M. on

    1 minor ah hmm, the escort by officials on each arm can and should be by-passed 1 would think so. Hands off as is protocol for Royals
    In courtesy would be extended to her majesty Elizabeth’s Governor General of the land.

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