Canada will have its first ever Indigenous governor general after prime minister Justin Trudeau appointed Inuk leader Mary Simon as the Queen’s representative in Canada.
Describing the move as a “historic” step, Trudeau announced Simon’s appointment on Tuesday after coming under mounting pressure to choose a new viceregal. His previous selection resigned after allegations of bullying in January.
“Canada is a place defined by people. People who serve those around them, who tackle big challenges with hope and determination, and above all, who never stop working to build a brighter tomorrow,” said Trudeau. “In other words, people like Mary Simon.
Originally from Kangiqsualujjuaq, in the Nunavik region of Quebec, Simon is a longtime advocate of Inuit rights. She previously served as the former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the country’s national advocacy organization for Inuit. She also served as Canada’s first Inuk ambassador in Denmark and for circumpolar affairs.
“I am honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first indigenous Governor General,” she said, also giving remarks in Inuktitut, her first language. “I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation.”
Simon’s appointment comes at a time when Canada’s rocky relationship with Indigenous nations has worsened, following the discovery of more than one thousand unmarked graves across the country.
In her remarks, Simon spoke of the need for the country to “fully recognize, memorialize and come to terms with the atrocities of our collective past” as more is learned about the legacy of residential schools.
Trudeau’s previous pick for governor general, Julie Payette, resigned in January after a number of anonymous staff told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation they were berated by Payette to the point of tears. Others said that she would call their work “shit” and order them out of her office.
The position is largely symbolic but once formally installed, Simon will outrank Trudeau as holder of highest federal office in Canada, second only to the Queen.
Ahead of a looming election, Trudeau faced pressure to appoint a governor general. One of Simon’s tasks will be to dissolve parliament upon the prime minister’s request.
Simon’s landmark appointment also comes amid growing skepticism over the role the monarchy plays in Canada.
According to recent polling 55% of respondents believe the royal family is no longer relevant. Given the chance, 43% of respondents said they would eliminate the position of governor general. Only 22% would opt to keep the role as is.