Inuk Leader and former ambassador has been chosen as the next governor-general – the first Indigenous person ever to be appointed to the role.

During a news conference across the river from Parliament Hill on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Queen has accepted his recommendation to appoint Mary Simon. She is a former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization, and now will serve as the 30th governor-general.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” said Simon from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.

“Indeed, my appointment comes at an especially reflective and dynamic time in our shared history.”

Mary Simon

Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP

The announcement comes nearly six months after the former governor-general, Julie Payette, resigned amid accusations of bullying.

While the role is largely ceremonial, the governor-general presides over important state duties.

Ms. Simon’s appointment follows a national reckoning over Canada’s legacy of residential schools. These government-funded schools were part of the policy attempt to assimilate indigenous children and roll back indigenous cultures and languages.

Ms. Simon is bilingual in English and Inuktitut – but not French. She said she was denied the opportunity to learn French while attending a federal day school in Quebec.

“I was denied the chance to learn French during my stay in the federal government day schools,” she told reporters. She promised to learn the language while on the job.

Who Is Mary Simon?

As an advocate for the Inuit and Canada’s North, Simon represented the Inuit during the repatriation of the Constitution. And she was involved in the creation of Nunavut.

She was named Canada’s first ambassador for circumpolar affairs in 1994. Five years after that, she also became Canada’s ambassador to Denmark, making her the first Inuk ambassador for the country.

During this time, she led Canada’s delegation at the negotiations to create the Arctic Council. As she detailed later to the University of the Arctic, she threatened to walk out of the talks over an American-led attempt to diminish Indigenous Peoples’ role in the organization.

She wrote a piece for the digital magazine, Policy Options, outlining her desire to make the Arctic a “win-win” for Canada and the Inuit. More recently, she has worked for the Trudeau government as a special representative to communities in the North.

Mary Simon

From left to right: Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, Mary Simon, and Whit Fraser (Simon’s husband)