Canada’s first Indigenous governor general sworn in on Monday

Governor General Mary Simon photo by Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall

OTTAWA – It was an historic day at Rideau Hall on Monday as Mary Simon, an Inuk from Kuujjuaq in northeastern Quebec, was sworn in as the nation’s 30th Governor General and the first Indigenous person to hold that office.

Her appointment comes as the nation continues to struggle with the legacy of the residential school system and the ongoing discoveries of unmarked graves at the schools across the country.

“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life,” said Ms. Simon in her address while praising  Canadians’ “selflessness” and vowing to use the power of her office to “bring people together.”

“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together,” she said in her address. “Every day, inside small community halls, school gyms, Royal Canadian Legions, places of worship, and in thousands of community service organizations, there are ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. As governor general I will never lose sight of this—that our selflessness is one of our great strengths as a nation. I pledge to be there for all Canadians.”

She also promised to use her new position at Rideau Hall to work against climate change, advocate for mental health and to work toward reconciliation.

Her appointment comes during a time of reckoning in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.

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

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada needs someone like Ms. Simon now. “You remind us that true leadership is not measured in the honours or distinction stacked up behind someone’s name—although today, you take on yet another title among many,” he said. “Rather, true leadership is measured in what you do for those around you. It is measured in an ability to reach out and build a brighter future for all, not just a lucky few. In this moment of unprecedented change—of rebuilding from the pandemic, of fighting the climate crisis, of walking forward on the path of reconciliation—we need your vision of a stronger Canada for everyone.”

The new governor general has been criticized for not being fluent in French, which she said she was prevented from learning while in day school in Northern Quebec. She is, however, fluent in her native Inuk language—making her bilingual in two of the nation’s many languages—and has committed to learning to speak French while on the job.

Her Inuk name is Ningiukudluk, which she warned the prime minister means “bossy little old lady,” promising some interesting days may lie ahead at Rideau Hall.