Mary Simon to be officially installed as governor general today

Politics

Mary Simon will be officially installed as Canada's first Indigenous governor general today in a ceremony at the Senate building in Ottawa.

Today, Mary Simon — an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat — becomes Canada's first Indigenous governor general.(Sean Kilpatrick/Canadia Press )


Mary Simon officially becomes Canada's first Indigenous governor general today in a ceremony at the Senate building in Ottawa.

Simon — an Inuk from Kuujjuaq in northeastern Quebec — was tapped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fill the role earlier this month.

The swearing-in ceremony will, for the first time, be conducted in both English and Inuktitut and broadcast in eight Indigenous languages on CBC Radio.

CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton will host coverage of Monday's event from Ottawa on CBC News Network beginning at 10 a.m. ET, and starting at 11 a.m. ET on CBC TV and CBC Gem.

Viewers can also follow the event on CBCnews.ca and on Facebook. CBC Indigenous Facebook is hosting the English stream, CBC Nunavut Facebook is hosting the Inuktitut stream, and CBC North Facebook is sharing both.

Following the ceremony, Simon will visit the National War Memorial to inspect a guard of honour and lay flowers in honour of Canada's war dead — her first act as the Queen's representative in Canada.

Simon took her first step into the official role Thursday when she spoke with the Queen.

In a short clip of the online conversation that was posted on The Royal Family's Instagram account, the Queen said it was good to speak with Simon and told her she was "taking over a very important job."

"Yes, I'm very privileged to be able to do this work over the next few years," Simon said. "I think it's vitally important for our country."

Indigenous leaders — particularly representatives of the Inuit community — have praised the appointment.

"To see somebody like Mary Simon, who is an unquestioned Indigenous leader in this country and has been for decades, be recognized for her leadership and her service in taking on this new responsibility as governor general was something that was really powerful," Natan Obed, the president of the national Inuit group Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), told CBC earlier this month.

But concerns have been raised about Simon's ability to speak French.

While she is fully fluent in English and Inuktitut, Simon is not fluent in French. Typically, the governor general is expected to have a complete command of both official languages.

Despite Simon's promise to continue taking French lessons while serving as governor general, hundreds of French speaking Canadians have written complaints to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The complaints prompted Commissioner Raymond Théberge to launch an investigation into the process for nominating the governor general.

Despite growing up in northern Quebec, Simon said she never had an opportunity to learn French at an early age because it was not taught at the federal day school she attended.

Day schools operated separately from residential schools but were run by many of the same groups that ran residential schools. They operated from the 1860s to the 1990s.

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The government has maintained that Simon is an exemplary candidate despite her lack of fluency in French.

Simon brings an extensive resume with her to Rideau Hall, following a career that included various positions as an advocate and ambassador.

She helped 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.

Widely seen as the country's "first modern treaty," the agreement saw the province acknowledge Cree and Inuit rights in the James Bay region for the first time, such as exclusive hunting, fishing and trapping rights and self-governance in some areas. It also offered financial compensation in exchange for the construction of massive new hydroelectric dams to fuel the growing province's demand for new energy sources.

Simon was also an Inuit representative during the negotiations that led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 — which included an acknowledgement of Indigenous treaty rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

WATCH | Mary Simon challenges Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984

In 1986, Simon was tapped to lead the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), a group created in 1977 to represent the Inuit in all the Arctic countries. At the ICC, she championed two priorities for Indigenous Peoples of the north: protecting their way of life from environmental damage and pushing for responsible economic development on their traditional territory.

In 1994, former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed Simon as Canada's first ambassador for circumpolar affairs.

During her time in that role, she helped negotiate the creation of an eight-country group known today as the Arctic Council. She would later be appointed as Canada's ambassador to Denmark.

Beginning in 2006, Simon served two terms as president of the ITK. In that role, she delivered a response on behalf of Inuit to the formal apology for residential schools presented in the House of Commons in 2008.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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