“Welcome home, Mary”: Governor General Mary Simon begins tour of Nunavik

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KUUJJUAQ, Que. — Mary Simon faced difficult questions in three languages ​​on Monday from students at Jaanimmarik School in Kuujjuaq, a community in northern Quebec.

KUUJJUAQ, Que. — Mary Simon faced difficult questions in three languages ​​on Monday from students at Jaanimmarik School in Kuujjuaq, a community in northern Quebec.

They asked about her fondest childhood memories in Nunavik (fishing, hunting and being on the land with her family), what she had to do to become Governor General (work hard) and what made her accept the position of Queen’s Representative in Canada.

To that, Simon said she hopes to use the non-political office to encourage Canadians to work together.

“We call it reconciliation right now,” she said. “Because there needs to be a lot more work between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians.”

She said equality in education is part of this work.

The primary to secondary school has approximately 350 students and classes are offered in English, French and Inuktitut.

“I used to go to school right next to this big school. We had a one-room school next door,” Simon told the children.

She and her siblings went to the federal day school in Kuujjuaq, then called Fort Chimo. She was home schooled by her father after 6th grade.

Simon was born near Kangiqsualujjuaq, an Inuit village in Nunavik, in 1947. His mother Nancy May, whose last name was Angnatuk-Askew, was Inuk and his father, Bob Mardon May, had moved to the Arctic to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. .. and stayed.

Simon only spoke Inuktitut as a child and had to learn English when she came to school.

Her appointment as Governor General in July 2021 angered some Francophones because she is not fluent in French. More than 1,000 complaints were forwarded to the official languages ​​watchdog, which launched an investigation.

The CBC reported in March that the investigation, which examined the appointment process followed by the Privy Council Office, found that it did not violate any federal government rules on bilingualism. He also noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not subject to the Official Languages ​​Act or required to choose one of the candidates recommended by the Privy Council Office.

Simon said she didn’t have the opportunity to learn French growing up in Nunavik and was committed to learning on the job. Quebec Premier Francois Legault told the media after meeting Simon last week that she still had work to do.

Simon made self-deprecating comments about his fluency in French several times Monday, during the public session at the school and earlier in the day during a meeting with Inuit leaders.

“I did my best to speak French, I’m not quite there yet, but he told the media that I needed to improve my French,” she said with a laugh.

Makivik Chairman Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp., which represents Inuit in northern Quebec, said Monday that Simon’s appointment has given the region and Inuit people exposure they never would have received.

But he also noted that negotiations with the Quebec government have nonetheless stalled.

“At the moment there is really no movement,” Aatami said.

“Canada is on board and things are happening, but Quebec has talked about bringing an observer for the self-determination process…I said we don’t need an observer, we need of a negotiator who will work with us.”

Simon told the group that Legault is “registered” saying he will appoint a negotiator.

Simon was one of the main negotiators of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Considered Canada’s first modern treaty, the 1975 agreement affirmed Inuit and Cree hunting and trapping rights in Nunavik and established $225 million in compensation over 20 years in exchange for the construction of hydroelectric dams.

The agreement also created the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (school board), which oversees elementary, secondary and adult education in 14 Nunavik communities, including Kuujjuaq.

The board’s language of instruction is Inuktitut. It opened a French-language component so that students undertaking post-secondary studies could continue their studies in a French-language school, college or university elsewhere in Quebec.

Simon encouraged the students to continue speaking Inuktitut.

“Being Inuk and being able to speak my language is really important,” she said.

“Even if you do great things nationally or internationally, you can always come home and speak your language.”

Simon describes himself as someone who rarely gets excited, but this week is different.

“I was thinking about my early childhood, when I was a young teenager especially, after we were at camp on the George River. We would have come here and we would be so excited we would almost scream,” she said Monday. morning.

“I felt like this yesterday.”

She is not alone. The people of Kuujjuaq have been eagerly awaiting his arrival for days, including his childhood best friend and sister-in-law, Louisa Berthe May.

“I was like, I wonder if I’ll be able to hug her,” May said. “So she came over and kissed me, and wow, that was something.”

Simon spent time with the cheering crowd gathered outside Kuujjuaq City Hall on an unusually warm spring day. Several people shouted “Welcome home, Mary”, far from the usual formalities of the viceregal office.

Here in Nunavik, the woman who holds the highest office in Canada is known by her first name. Everyone seems to know her and many call her a friend.

Local Inuit leaders laughed that there was no Inuktitut translation for his title “Your Excellency”.

“She is my role model,” said Jennifer Watkins, a resident of Kuujjuaq.

“Mary has been a lifelong advocate for Inuit, so for her, the moment to become Her Excellency, Governor General of Canada, was well deserved. And that means a lot to Inuit across the Arctic.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 9, 2022.

— With files from Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press



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