Canada’s first Inuit Governor General Mary Simon raises hopes for new relationship

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OTTAWA – When Mary Simon spoke her first words as Canada’s next Governor General in her native language, Inuktitut, a collective thrill was felt by many Inuit and other Indigenous peoples in Canada, recognizing that he was was a time that will be remembered for a long time.

“It made me very proud,” said Senator Yvonne Boyer, Métis lawyer and former nurse.

“It was very touching and it was something I knew the ancestors held hands with her while she was doing this.”

Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp., which Simon led in the 1970s, echoed that sense of excitement to hear the traditional Inuit language spoken and performed when the Queen’s new representative in Canada was announced. Tuesday.

“I am sure the Inuit will celebrate today across Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Alaska, Greenland and Chukotka,” said Aatami.

“Having an Indigenous person as the representative of the Crown in Canada sends a strong message to the nation and to the international community. This comes at an important time in our history as we collectively work for reconciliation.

Simon’s appointment comes at a time when Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada are coming to terms with numerous atrocities perpetrated against First Nations, Inuit and Métis throughout centuries of history.

When colonial explorers first claimed the lands in a place now called Canada as “terra nullius”, or vacant lands, European officials used the papal “doctrine of discovery” to displace and control the lives of indigenous peoples. who already lived there, on the basis of the notion they had racial and religious superiority.

The establishment of church-run and government-funded residential schools, which aimed to assimilate Indigenous children after removing them from their families and communities, caused more pain, suffering and loss of identity, language and culture to indigenous peoples. Many children have been physically, sexually and emotionally abused. Many have not returned home.

The recent ground-penetrating radar discoveries of what are believed to be the remains of hundreds of children, in unnamed graves, who frequented these establishments, have sparked a strong desire across Canada to see justice served and more to seek reconciliation.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says he hopes Simon will be able to show attention to those who feel new loss and the pain will trigger a new relationship between Indigenous Nations and the Crown.

“Whether it’s the forest fires in British Columbia or the loss of life caused by racism and violence. There are things that happened in 2021 that I hope a Governor General could weigh in and empathize with those who are going through hardship and pain, ”Obed said.

He noted, however, that Simon will represent not only Inuit in the North, but all Canadians in his new vice-regal role.

The outgoing Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde echoed that sentiment.

“She has exceptional accomplishments, not just because she is Inuk. She has the experience and skills,” Bellegarde said Tuesday, highlighting her past work as Canada’s Ambassador to Denmark and Canadian Ambassador for Business. circumpolar.

“She will be the Crown’s representative in Canada and she will do so with great dignity and extraordinary grace. All Canadians should be proud that this step has been taken and she will do a job for all Canadians.”

While applauding Simon’s appointment as an “excellent choice” and one that made the Indigenous women they represent proud, the Native Women’s Association of Canada also noted that Simon “is being invited to take on the senior leadership role in the process. which is still a colonial system of governance. “

“To achieve true reconciliation, the federal government must reconsider its appointments of ministers to head ministries that have a profound effect on the lives of Indigenous people – the departments of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Indigenous Services,” he said. ‘AFAC in a statement Tuesday.

It is time for these two ministries to be led by indigenous peoples, the association added.

“It is time for the government to step aside and allow aboriginal people to run their own affairs. “

Neither Bellegarde nor Boyer believe that Simon’s Indigenous roots put her at odds with her new role as representative of the Crown.

The treaties that guide the partnerships between Canada and First Nations were made with the Crown, and because of this, the relationship between First Nations and the Crown is “sacred,” Bellegarde said.

“Because of this sanctity of the agreement, this sanctity of the contract, there is a sacred covenant that cannot be broken. So having an indigenous person as the (representative) of the Crown, there is no doubt, there is no challenge or whatever.

Boyer believes that Simon in this role can be a “bridge” to reconciliation.

“I know people are hurting right now. Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are really suffering from what’s going on and I think having him in this role will be a guide for us and it will help us continue to build bridges. together and not separately. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 6, 2021.

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