Mary Simon, an Indigenous leader and advocate, has been appointed as Canada’s governor general.
Simon is the first Indigenous person to be appointed as Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative in Canada and as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. Although the Queen must approve the appointment after seeking recommendations from the Canadian government, it is primarily a ceremonial role.
“I am inspired by the historic nature of this moment, as our country continues to come to terms with the difficult realities of our collective past,” , Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Monday. “I know that, as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Her Excellency will devote herself to helping us as we confront these difficult truths together, walk the shared path of reconciliation, and build bridges between all those who call our country home.
Simon will be the country’s 30th governor general, succeeding former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, who resigned earlier this year after being accused of creating a “toxic” workplace environment by current and former employees.
Current and former government employees accused Payette of creating a toxic workplace, harassing and bullying employees, and even bringing some employees to tears, as first reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) last year.
The appointment comes at a contentious time in Canada, as the country grapples with its history of systemic mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, including forced assimilation programs.
Hundreds of human remains were recently discovered in unmarked graves on the grounds of several former residential schools, sparking outrage and condemnation.
Tens of thousands of indigenous children were neglected and abused in boarding schools that they were forced to attend, according to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Simon said earlier this month that she understands the “pain and suffering” felt across the country because she is Indigenous.
“And as I said in my remarks, we need to stop to fully recognize and memorialize and come to terms with the atrocities of our collective past that we are learning more about each day,” Simon said, adding that it took “courage” for Trudeau to appoint her to the position.
According to a Canadian government statement, Simon was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik, and has worked as an advocate for Inuit rights and culture.
She played a key role in the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution, which formally enshrined Aboriginal and treaty rights in the country’s supreme law.
Simon has also served as the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization, as well as a former Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs and a former ambassador to Denmark.
“Ms. Simon has dedicated her life to advancing social, economic, and human rights issues for Canadian Inuit and Indigenous peoples, and I am confident that she will serve Canadians and promote our shared values with dedication and integrity,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Simon hopes to be “a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada” as she takes on the role.
“I can relate to all people no matter where they live, what they hope for or what they need to overcome,” she said.