On Tuesday, Inuit rights advocate and former diplomat Mary Simon was named Governor-General by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Simon is the first Indigenous person to occupy the role, where she will represent Queen Elizabeth II, Canada’s head of state. In the position, Simon will also execute necessary state duties and serve as the commander-in-chief of Canada’s Armed Forces.
This appointment follows a painful reckoning with Canada’s history of abuse and assimilation of Indigenous peoples. In the past two months, hundreds of unmarked graves have been found near former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada.
Two weeks ago, over 750 graves were discovered at a former residential school in Saskatchewan. In May, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Colombia. Just on Friday, 182 remains were uncovered in unmarked graves at another British Columbia former residential school.
These devastating discoveries have sparked a national conversation about the history of residential schools, in which the Canadian government forcibly attempted to assimilate Indigenous children and erase Indigenous culture.
Mary Simon, who was the president of a national Inuit organization, the Inuit Tapirlit Kanatami, acknowledged Canada’s brutal mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in her remarks on Tuesday.
“I do understand, as an Indigenous person, that there is pain and suffering across our nation,” she said. “We need to start to fully recognize and memorialize and comes to terms with the atrocities of our collective past.”
Simon was born to an Inuk mother in Nunavik in northern Quebec. She lived a traditional Inuk lifestyle for several months while she was a teenager, which she says has given her the ability to “be a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada.”
“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada,” Simon said, “and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation.”
Sources: BBC 7/6/21; Washington Post 7/6/21; CNN 6/25/21; Washington Post 5/28/21; CNN 7/2/21;