Nunavik News: Governor General will visit the region this week


The usual excitement about the end of the school year in Nunavik is reaching a new level as hundreds of students prepare to present special projects to the country’s first Indigenous Governor General.

Mary Simon’s visit to the Nunavik region of northern Quebec this week marks the first time she has paid an official visit to the area where she grew up since being named viceroy in July 2021.

The five-day trip is scheduled to include visits to four schools and youth groups, highlighting one of the priorities Simon set in his post of promoting education and physical and mental health for young people.

Students and teachers prepare artistic projects and anticipate the visit for more than a month.

“The fact that students can interact with her in their own mother tongue is something very special,” said Jade Duchesneau Bernier, communication coordinator for Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board for Nunavik.

While Simon’s inability to speak French has been controversial – prompting hundreds of complaints and an investigation by the official language watchdog – his fluency in Inuktitut is an asset to this particular tour.

“It’s very rare that we have government officials who know what the North is, who the Inuit are, what their culture is, what their language is,” Duchesneau Bernier said.

Simon’s visit to the northernmost part of the province comes just days after she met with Quebec Prime Minister François Legault, who told reporters he still has “more work to do” to improve his French language skills. .

Simon said she is committed to learning French on the job, but was denied the chance to do so while attending a federal federal school in her youth.

She was born near Kangiqsualujjuaq, an Inuit village in Nunavik, in 1947. Her mother Nany May, whose family name was Angnatuk-Askew, was Inuk and her father Bob Mardon May had moved to the Arctic to work for Hudson’s Bay Co. and stayed.

She and her siblings went to a federal school in Kuujjuaq, then called Fort Chimo. She was homeschooled by her father after 6th grade.

Simon, 74, has been a leader in the North for the past four decades. She served as president of Makivik Corp., the Nunavik land claim body, and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit national organization.

She was Canada’s first ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and also served as the country’s ambassador to Denmark.

On his first day in Kuujjuaq, Simon is expected to meet with representatives from Makivik, the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavik Regional Health and Social Services Council and the school board before sitting down with the mayor and the council.

The itinerary also includes organizations that focus on holistic methods of treating trauma and addiction in a region facing the effects of colonialism, with high rates of alcohol abuse, suicide risk and social inequalities.

The Isuarsivik Recovery Center, for example, focuses on combining traditional Inuit values ​​and modern practices. It offers six-week inpatient programs for groups of nine men or women, helping them heal from trauma and overcome addictions, at no cost.

Simon will visit a new center, scheduled to open next year, which will include a family inpatient program. This approach was recognized in March with a $1 million Arctic Inspiration Award.

Simon plans to speak with Inuit leaders and local officials, meet with elders and participate in cultural celebrations throughout the week.

Her husband, writer and journalist Whit Fraser, 79, is also part of the official tour in her role as consort to the Viceroy of Canada.

Simon is well known for her role in the negotiation and implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement between the Cree and the Inuit of Northern Quebec, the provincial government and Hydro-Quebec in 1975.

Considered the first modern treaty in Canada, the agreement affirmed Inuit and Cree hunting and capture rights in the area and established $225 million in compensation over 20 years in exchange for building hydroelectric dams.

During her time as ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, she led the negotiations to create what is now known as the eight-country Arctic Council. She also worked as a producer and announcer for CBC North.

In 2016, she served as special advisor on the Arctic to Carolyn Bennett, who was then Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and proposed indigenous protected areas in the North.

Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corp., said in a statement when Simon was named the next Governor General of Canada: “In Nunavik, we all know our new Governor General as Mary.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 8, 2022

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