Canada appoints first Indigenous governor general


On July 6, 2021 Mary Simon was appointed as the 30th governor general of Canada. Simon is the first Indigenous person to be appointed to the role. 

"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 said during a press conference at the Canadian Museum if History in Gatineau, Quebec.

Simon is an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, a village located in northeastern Quebec on the coast of Ungava Bay.  During the press conference, Simon took time to introduce herself and share background about her early life.

Simon was born to a local Inuk woman and her father worked as a fur trader at a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost. Simon said that she lived a “very traditional lifestyle” growing up but that she also learned from her father, a non-Indigenous man originally from Manitoba, about the “non-native world.

"Combined, these experiences allow me to be a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada," Simon said. "I can relate to all people no matter where they live, what they hope for or what they need to overcome."

Simon has worked for decades as an advocate for Indigenous rights. She helped to negotiate the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, a landmark deal between the Cree and Inuit in Quebec’s North, the provincial government, and Hydro-Québec. The agreement is seen as Canada’s “first modern treaty” and saw the province of Quebec acknowledge Cree and Inuit rights in the James Bay region. These rights included exclusive hunting, fishing, trapping rights and self-governance.

In 1986, Simon was appointed to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) where she championed two priorities for Indigenous peoples of the North including environmental protection and responsible economic development.

In 2002, she was appointed as Canada's first Arctic ambassador, a position in which Simon worked closely with other Northern countries to help improve co-operation in the region. She also served as Canada's ambassador to Denmark.

Beginning in 2006, Simon served two terms as the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). The ITK is a national Indigenous organization focused on the advancement of Inuit rights. During her time with ITK, her focus was on advocating for more attention to health and education issues for young people living in Inuit Nunangat.

The role of the governor general

The governor general is the Queen’s representative in Canada and serves as the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. The governor general is also responsible for representing Canada at events, ceremonies, and official visits at home and abroad. 

One of the most important duties associated with the role is to ensure that Canada always has a prime minister and stable government in place with the confidence of a functioning parliament.

Other duties of the governor general include the following

  • Presiding over the swearing-in of the prime minister, the chief justice of Canada, and cabinet ministers.
  • Summoning (starting), proroguing (discontinuing), and dissolving Parliament.
  • Delivering the speech from the throne and giving royal assent to acts of Parliament.
  • Signing official documents and meeting regularly with the Prime Minister.

While no set date has been announced for the commencement of the appointment, Mary Simon will assume her role as governor general in the coming months of 2021.