Governor General Mary Simon in the Senate in Ottawa on November 23, 2021.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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

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

The five-day trip is expected to include visits to four schools as well as youth groups, underscoring one of the priorities Ms Simon has set for herself during her tenure to promote the education and physical and mental health of young people.

Students and teachers have been preparing art projects and anticipating the visit for more than a month.

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

Although Ms. Simon’s inability to speak French has been controversial – prompting hundreds of complaints and an investigation by the official languages ​​watchdog – her fluency in Inuktitut is an asset to this particular tour.

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

Simon’s visit to the northernmost part of the province comes just days after she met with Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who told reporters she still had “work to do” to improve her French skills.

Ms. Simon said she was determined to learn French on the job, but was denied the opportunity to do so when she attended a federal day school in her youth.

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

She and her siblings attended the federal day school in Kuujjuaq, then called Fort Chimo. She was homeschooled by her father after 6th grade.

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

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

On her first day in Kuujjuaq, Ms. Simon is to meet with representatives from Makivik, the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and the school board before sitting down with the mayor and the board.

The route also includes organizations that focus on holistic methods of treating trauma and substance abuse in a region struggling with the effects of colonialism, with high rates of alcohol abuse, suicide risk and death. ‘social inequalities.

The Isuarsivik Recovery Centre, for example, emphasizes blending traditional Inuit values ​​with 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.

Ms. Simon will visit a new centre, scheduled to open next year, which will include a family hospitalization program. This approach was rewarded in March with an Arctic Inspiration Prize worth $1 million.

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

Her husband, author and journalist Whit Fraser, 79, is also part of the official trip in his role as viceregal husband of Canada.

Ms. Simon is well known for her role in the negotiation and implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement between the Cree and 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 trapping rights in the region and established compensation of $225 million over 20 years in exchange for the construction of hydroelectric dams.

During her tenure as Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, she led negotiations to create what is now known as the eight-nation Arctic Council. She has also worked as a producer and host for CBC North.

In 2016, she served as Special Advisor on the Arctic to Carolyn Bennett, 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 Ms. Simon was named Canada’s next Governor General: “In Nunavik, we all know our new Governor General as Mary.

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