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
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.
“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.