Governor General Mary Simon says she wants to see Indigenous communities take back the power they held before colonization
Governor General Mary Simon wasted no time this week on her first trip to Nunavik in three years, using the visit to encourage leaders to advance self-government negotiations.
Simon, originally from Kuujjuaq and former president of Makivik Corp., has her own experience as a lead negotiator in the Nunavik self-determination process.
On her first day in the area, she brought up the issue during a meeting with Makivik Corp. and other representatives of Inuit organizations from Nunavik, emphasizing the need to negotiate a new agreement with the Government of Quebec.
She also worked on the other side of the table, pushing Quebec Premier François Legault to appoint a negotiator. During briefings with Makivik executives on Monday, she assured that the work had paid off.
“[Legault] committed in the meeting with me to appoint a negotiator,” she said. “I asked him to say it twice, so he said it publicly.”
Simon sat down with Nunatsiaq News during her five-day tour of Nunavik this week, to discuss why the quest for self-government in Nunavik is so important to her.
“The goal of negotiating self-determination or self-government agreements in, I think, all parts of Canada, Indigenous communities, is to bring back the power that we had before colonization,” she said. .
Simon said one of his visions for Inuit self-determination is that infrastructure and social development in the Arctic should match some of the development that has happened in the rest of Canada.
However, she says, development in Nunavik must be led and controlled by the region’s Inuit.
“For Inuit, it’s important that there is a mesh of ways of looking at how infrastructure is developed, and that infrastructure supports different things like education, health, municipal services,” said she said.
“All of these different services that are in the communities are going to be encompassed by this self-government agreement, you have to watch how these things evolve as you negotiate self-government.”
There are areas where Nunavimmiut are leading the charge on social issues, through the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Center in Kuujjuaq and the Unaaq Men’s Association in Inukjuak.
“I’m really happy to listen to the challenges that people face in their communities, I’m also really happy to listen to the success stories, so hopefully I can bring that to a wider audience in Canada,” said Simon, after meeting with representatives of these groups.
“Communities, on the one hand, have a lot of social problems, but on the other hand, they also thrive, they speak their language, they practice their culture, and in some of the schools that we have been, the people who work there speak to students in Inuktitut.
Simon’s Nunavik tour included stops in Kuujjuaq, Kangiqsualujjuaq and Inukjuak. A planned visit to Kangiqsujuaq was canceled on Wednesday due to poor flying conditions, with Simon calling on community representatives to apologize and promising to return in the future.
She described her visit to Nunavik as “comforting” and “gratifying”.
Governors general generally serve a five-year term. In the four years remaining in Simon’s term, she said she hopes to be able to visit all the communities in Nunavik and see as much of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon as possible.
“I have a lot of traveling to do,” she said.
Each time Simon returns to Nunavik, she will be welcomed with open arms, said Mary Johannes, Mayor of Kuujjuaq and friend of Simon’s family.
“It was a special time for us, and for our community, our city, and to welcome him into our home,” Johannes said. “It’s a special week for us and we hope to see her again.”
Simon’s Nunavik tour ended on Friday.
She will then travel to Toronto for the Juno Awards, where she will present the Humanitarian Award to Inuk singer-songwriter Susan Aglukark.