Trudeau names Indigenous leader in ‘historic’ first

The Canadian Prime Minister has appointed Mary Simon Governor General, the first Indigenous person to hold this position.

The former diplomat and Inuit rights advocate will represent Canada’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II.

The announcement comes nearly six months after the resignation of former Governor General Julie Payette amid accusations of intimidation.

Although the role is largely ceremonial, the Governor General presides over important functions of the state.

Ms. Simon’s appointment follows a national review of Canada’s residential school legacy. These government-funded boarding schools were part of a policy to try to assimilate Indigenous children and roll back Indigenous cultures and languages.

In the past two months, hundreds of anonymous graves, believed to belong to former residential school students, have been discovered.

Born in northern Quebec, Ms. Simon said she was raised to maintain an active connection with her Inuit culture and heritage. She was Ambassador to Denmark and President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization.

On Tuesday, she said her “historic” appointment was “an important step on the long road to reconciliation” and to “building a more inclusive and just Canadian society.”

Ms. Simon is bilingual in English and Inuktitut – but not in French. She said she was denied the opportunity to learn French while attending a federal day school in Quebec.

Canada has two official languages: English and French. It’s rare for a person named like this not to master both, but Ms Simon said on Tuesday that she is committed to continuing her education in French.

In January, astronaut Julie Payette resigned after four years on the job amid reports that a very critical workplace investigation would be made public.

The third-party review found that she had presided over a “toxic” work environment, with examples of “yelling, shouting, aggressive conduct, degrading comments and public humiliation.”

The government launched the external investigation after CBC News reported last year that several staff members felt intimidated by Ms. Payette.

Following his resignation, Mr. Trudeau appointed Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner as Acting Governor General. He said on Tuesday that nearly 100 names had been checked and vetted before Ms Simon was selected.

As the Queen’s representative in Canada, the Governor General performs many functions in her absence.

He or she has the power to deliver a Speech from the Throne and suspend Parliament, give Royal Assent to a law and swear in the Prime Minister, and he or she is the Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.


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