Governor General begins tour of Nunavik, meeting with local officials in Kuujjuaq

Governor General Mary Simon smiles during a round-table discussion with northern organizations, Monday, May 9, 2022 in Kuujjuaq, Que. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon describes herself as someone who rarely gets excited, but this week is different.

"Yesterday I was thinking of my early childhood, when I was a young teenager especially, after we were at the camp on the George River. We would be coming here and we would be so excited we were almost squealing," she told a room of Inuit leaders Monday morning.

"I kind of felt like that yesterday."

Simon is home in Nunavik for the first time in three years, and this is her initial visit as Canada's first Indigenous Governor General.

Local leaders excitedly awaited her arrival Monday at Makivik Corporation, which represents Inuit in northern Quebec, laughing that there's no Inuktitut translation for her title "Your Excellency."

The warm welcome came with serious discussion about progress on Inuit self-governance, an area in which Simon was a leader before her appointment last July.

Makivik president Pita Aatami said in his opening remarks that Simon's appointment has given exposure to the region and to Inuit people that they never would have received, but he also noted that since she took the office negotiations with the Quebec government have stalled.

"At this time, there's really no movement," Aatami said.

"Canada is on board and things are happening, but Quebec has talked about bringing an observer for the self-determination process ... I said we don't need an observer, we need a negotiator that's going to work with us."

Simon told the group about her recent meeting with Premier Francois Legault in Quebec City where, she said, he committed to appoint a negotiator.

"He's on record saying that," she said.

Simon said she had some good discussions with Legault. "I tried my best to speak French, I'm still not quite there yet, but he did say to the media that I need to improve my French," she said with a chuckle.

Simon and her husband Whit Fraser will also stop at the Isuarsivik Recovery Centre's qarmak site, a traditional Inuit dwelling, where they will learn about the facility's focus on reclaiming Inuit identity and culture through connection with the land.

The centre, founded in 1994, offers addictions and trauma treatment programs that incorporate traditional Inuit values.

Its services are provided at no cost to people from 14 Nunavik communities who are beneficiaries of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, known as the first modern treaty in Canada, which Simon worked to negotiate and implement.

There will be throat singing and other cultural presentations throughout the day, which wraps with a town hall discussion with students at a local school and a visit to the elders' home.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2022.

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