Canada on Tuesday appointed the first Indigenous governor general in its 154-year history.
At a press conference at the Canadian Museum of History, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced Mary Simon, who as governor general will serve as the queen’s representative in Canada.
“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has approved the appointment of Mary Simon as the 30th Governor General of Canada,” Trudeau said, calling this a “historic step.”
Simon, an Inuit from northern Quebec and a former diplomat who has served as an ambassador for the Arctic, has been a champion for her people’s rights.
The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (formerly known as the Eskimo Brotherhood of Canada) is the organization that promotes the Inuit across the Canadian north from the Northwest Territories east to Northern Labrador. It immediately tweeted out its approval of Simon.
“ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) extends its deepest congratulations to Mary Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General! Mary has served Inuit and Canada in many distinguished roles, including as President of ITK. We wish her extraordinary success in her role at this critical time in our history.”
Simon said her appointment is a “historic opportunity” and she is “honored, humbled and ready” for the job.
She said the appointment is an “important step in the long path towards reconciliation” between Indigenous peoples and the general population of Canada.
Unmarked graves at Indian schools
Her appointment comes in the wake of the discovery of unmarked graves at Indian residential schools in Canada. Many of the graves contain the remains of children who were in many cases taken from their Indigenous parents and forced to attend the schools – the first of which opened in the 1820s, with the last one closing in 1996.
The governor general’s role is mainly ceremonial, but she is the queen’s representative to Canada and she does have power, but in reality she follows the direction of the prime minister.
The governor general has important parliamentary responsibilities, including summoning and dissolving parliament, setting out the government’s program by reading the Speech from the Throne and giving assent, which brings parliamentary bills into law.