Canada swears in Mary Simon as first indigenous governor general

Mary Simon signs an oath as her husband Whit Fraser, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire, and speaker of the house Anthony Rota look on in Ontario, Canada, on July 26, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (AFP) - Inuit rights advocate Mary Simon became Canada's 30th governor general on Monday (July 26), the first indigenous woman to hold the post, with her swearing-in coming amid a reckoning with the nation's colonial history.

"I am honoured, humble and ready to be Canada's first indigenous governor general," said Simon, in her first official speech Monday at a ceremony in Ottawa's Senate.

"I will strive to build bridges across the diverse backgrounds and cultures that reflect our great country's uniqueness and promise," added the 74-year-old, who becomes the official representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in Canada.

She pledged to meet Canadians in every province and territory to "learn firsthand what people are facing." Simon took the oath of office at a ceremony punctuated by performances from indigenous artists.

Only 44 people were invited due to the pandemic as opposed to the usual several hundred. Her husband as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were in attendance.

In her speech, Simon also advocated defending the environment and reconciling with indigenous peoples.

"For many years, Canada has experienced a disproportionate level of impacts from climate change because the Arctic is warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet," she said.

Originally from Nunavik, a region in northern Quebec, she speaks fluent English and Inuktitut.

But she also reiterated her commitment to learning French, which along with English is one of the country's two official languages.

Her appointment as governor general has been widely praised, but her lack of fluency in French has irked some, notably in French-speaking Quebec.

"We need people like Ms Simon, because we need people who build bridges and bring us together," said Trudeau.

Simon met the Queen last Thursday via video conference.

She has been appointed for five years, but the length of her mainly honorary term is at the monarch's discretion.

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