Canada’s 30th Governor General is a Memorial University honorary degree recipient.
Dr. Mary Simon was awarded a doctor of laws degree from Memorial in 2008 She is the first Indigenous person to serve in the Governor General role.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on July 6 that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II approved the appointment to make Dr. Simon her representative in Canada.
Dr. Simon was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik (Quebec), to a local Inuk woman and a fur trader father who worked at a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost.
Dr. Simon is recognized nationally and internationally for her work on Arctic and Indigenous issues and as an advocate for Inuit rights and culture.
She began her career as a radio broadcaster with the CBC Northern Service (now CBC North) in the 1970s.
Following this, she held a series of executive positions with the Northern Quebec Inuit Association and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, centred on negotiating the first land claims agreement in Canada.
“I am very much looking forward to seeing the progress I am certain she will make on the road to reconciliation.”
As President of Makivik Corporation, she was directly involved with the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and with the protection and promotion of Inuit rights under that agreement.
Along with fellow Indigenous leaders, she was actively involved in the negotiations leading to the 1982 patriation of the Canadian Constitution, which formally entrenched Indigenous and treaty rights in the supreme law of Canada.
She later joined the executive council of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now the Inuit Circumpolar Council), for which she served two terms as president. She served as commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission and policy co-director of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
From 1994-2003, Dr. Simon served as ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, becoming the first Inuk to hold an ambassadorial position. During this time, she negotiated the creation of the Arctic Council. Concurrently, she served as ambassador of Canada to Denmark from 1999-2001.
Beginning in 2006, Dr. Simon served two terms as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
Advocate for Indigenous rights
In 2008 in the House of Commons, Dr. Simon delivered a response on behalf of Inuit to the formal apology on residential schools.
She is the founder of the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation and, until 2014, was the chairperson of the National Committee on Inuit Education.
In 2017, as the minister’s special representative, Dr. Simon delivered a report to the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs on A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model, setting the stage for important policy and program development in support of the Arctic and its residents.
Among other distinctions, Dr. Simon is an officer of the Order of Canada and an officer of the Ordre National du Québec. She is also a recipient of the Governor General’s Northern Medal, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gold Medal of the Canadian Geographical Society and the Symons Medal.
Dr. Simon is an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a recent recipient of the CCAB/SODEXO Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Relations. Most recently, she has been actively involved in the creation of a new organization called Canadians for a New Partnership, for which she is the co-chair of the board of directors.
Besides being the Queen’s representative in Canada, the Governor General also serves as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces and represents Canada at events, ceremonies and official visits at home and abroad.
“Dr. Mary Simon is an excellent and transformative choice for Canada’s Governor General,” said President Vianne Timmons. “I am very much looking forward to seeing the progress I am certain she will make on the road to reconciliation.”