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Saturday, September 18, 2021

‘I will strive to build bridges’: Read Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s first speech

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OTTAWA — Mary Simon conveyed a message of hope, inclusiveness, and resilience as she delivered her first speech after being sworn in as the country’s 30th Governor General and the first Indigenous person to hold the position.

Simon reflected on her childhood in Arctic Quebec, living a “traditional” lifestyle in Nunavik, travelling by dog team or boat, and hunting and fishing to gather food. She said she valued the dual perspective of the Inuit world and the non-Inuit southern world that her parents gave her.

During her career working in public policy and legislative reform, Simon said she had the privilege of witnessing Canada’s rich diversity, something she pledges to uphold. She acknowledged the country’s frayed relationship with Indigenous Peoples and that Canada must do more to respect all cultures and ethnicities, adding that she will seek to “build bridges” between people of diverse backgrounds.

Below is a transcript of the English portion of Simon’s first speech as Governor General. She also spoke in French and Inuktitut, however these remarks have not been included below as they largely duplicated words she spoke in English.

Good afternoon, or still morning, good morning.

With great respect, I would like to acknowledge that today we are standing on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people, who have lived and cared for this part of the world for thousands of years.

Prime Minister Trudeau, thank you for your faith in me and for your commitment to reconciliation. I am honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General.

Where we gather today is of enormous significance to me. Thirty-nine years ago, when this was the Government Conference Centre, I worked with other Indigenous leaders and First Ministers to have our rights affirmed in the Constitution of Canada. That moment made this one possible.

I also want to offer my heartfelt gratitude to Her Majesty The Queen for placing her trust and confidence in me. I know she has an abiding love for this magnificent country.

And to my family: thank you to my husband, Whit, to my children, Richard, Louis, and Carole, and to my step-children, Rhonda, Dianne and Whitney, and to my siblings. Of course, to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All of you have given me strength, purpose, love and inspiration over the course of my life.

To the Canadian Armed Forces, I am honoured to be taking on the role as commander-in-chief of Canada. Thank you for embodying the meaning of sacrifice, valour and service on behalf of all Canadians. Your conviction and courage is of the highest order and represents the very best of all of us. I’m looking forward to meeting those serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Canadian Rangers and other Reserve units in the days ahead.

Since the announcement of my appointment, I have been deeply touched by the responses from Canadians who have reached out to me.

I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together. I have heard from Canadians who have challenged me to bring a new and renewed purpose to the office of the governor general to help Canadians deal with the issues we are facing. I have heard from Canadians who have expressed their support in my commitment to learn French, and have even offered to assist me in my training. And I have heard from Canadians who see Rideau Hall as the people’s hall—reflecting the values, aspirations and diversity of our great Canadian family.

I am truly grateful for these words of support and guidance.

As Governor General, I am fully committed to setting and maintaining the highest possible standard of work and ethics in all aspects of my duties.

Today is an important and historic day for Canada. But my story, to these chambers, began very far from here.

I was born Mary Jeannie May in Arctic Quebec, now known as Nunavik. My Inuk name is Ningiukudluk, and prime minister it means bossy little old lady.

I spent my adolescence in Nunavik, living a very traditional lifestyle with my parents. My mom, Nancy, was Inuk. My father, Bob – and my grandmother Jeannie, who was also Inuk – who was from the south, managed our local Hudson’s Bay company post.

Many months out of the year we lived on the land—travelling by dog team and boat, hunting, fishing and gathering food.

Over the years I have exchanged stories with Canadians about favourite childhood memories. This is mine: lying in our family’s tent along the George River, on a bed of spruce boughs and caribou skins, listening to the early morning sound of birds, and the crunch of snow under the feet of our dog team.

What I valued most about my upbringing was my parents teaching my siblings and I how to live in two worlds—the Inuit world and the non-Inuit southern world.

This foundation of core values has both served and shaped me throughout my life, and I believe helped me get to an important turning point as a young girl, when I stopped being afraid.

It took time before I gained the self-confidence to assert myself and my beliefs in the non-Indigenous world. But when I came to understand that my voice had power and that others were looking to me to be their voice, I was able to let go of my fear.

My first language—Inuktitut—is the language that defines Inuit as a people, and is the foundation of our very survival.

My second language—English—became a gateway to the world beyond.

And now, I am committed to adding Canada’s other official language, French.

At this point in our shared history it is clear that many languages are part of the fabric of our nation, as are the stories of those who come to Canada in search of a new life.

Later, in my early 20s living in Montreal, I worked for the CBC, and found myself sight translating the news and explaining to Inuit listeners across the Arctic the news stories from around the world.

But there has always been another guiding force in my life—the importance of promoting healing and wellness through all forms of education, from creating public policy, to legislative reform, to improving school curricula, to advocating for human rights.

I have had the privilege in my career of travelling extensively to all provinces and territories. What I remember most is not the meetings or conferences, but the mix of cultures and heritage that make Canada a beacon to the world.

I will never forget the selfless work of Canadians in every corner of this country. Every day, inside small community halls, school gyms, Royal Canadian Legions, places of worship, and in thousands of community service organizations, there are ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things.

As Governor General I will never lose sight of this—that our selflessness is one of our great strengths as a nation.

Canada is an Arctic nation. Our Arctic is one of the most unique places on the planet—from spring geese to winter darkness, to some of the largest wildlife migrations anywhere on earth. Our North is also a well-lived and lived-in homeland for Inuit, First Nations and Métis people.

The Arctic matters a lot to Canada and to the world. Canada has championed the creation of the Arctic Council and the Central Arctic Ocean Fishing Agreement. We have settled modern treaties with Inuit. We have passed the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act to assure sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, and developed a circumpolar dimension to its foreign policy, which recognizes that human security must include environmental security.

For many years, Canada has experienced a disproportionate level of impact from climate change because the Arctic is warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet. The Arctic represents nearly 40 per cent of our landmass, and may be free of summer sea ice in the coming decades.

The twin global crises of nature destruction and climate change are undoubtedly the challenge of our time. For evidence, we need only look at the Arctic, and what has happened this past month across the country: the devastating impacts of forest fires, prolonged droughts, record heat waves.

I believe that in order to have a healthy future, we must reset our thinking to understand that nature contains and creates our climate. Our climate allows society to be possible, and within our society is our economy.

As governor general, I will promote and recognize leading examples of community and Indigenous-driven conservation and of climate action that are making a real difference and can inspire other Canadians to do the same. I hope to promote these examples of Canadian leadership nationally and around the world.

I have always viewed Canada as a metaphor for family.

As members of our large and diverse Canadian family, we have to replace the hurt with hope and find the grace and humility to stand together and move towards a more just and equitable future.

Addressing mental health and wellness within our families, our schools, our work places and our front-line services is hard and necessary work, but think of the possibilities for stronger, healthier and more prosperous communities.

I would like to acknowledge all Canadians who have sacrificed their own safety by providing essential services during the pandemic so that the rest of us could stay safe. You stepped up when the rest of us were told to stay home. Thank you.

As governor general I am committed to using this moment in our country’s history to build on the work of de-stigmatizing mental health so it is viewed through the same lens as physical ailments, and receives the same attention, compassion and understanding.

Since the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation report six years ago, we have learned as a country that we need to learn the real history of Canada. Embracing this truth makes us stronger as a nation, unites Canadian society and teaches our kids that we must always do our best, especially when it’s hard.

The discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of residential schools in recent weeks has horrified me, along with all Canadians.

A lot of people think that reconciliation will be completed through projects and services. All Canadians deserve access to services.

My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day.

Reconciliation is getting to know one another.

As stated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report: “Reconciliation must support Aboriginal peoples as they heal from the destructive legacies of colonization that have wreaked such havoc in their lives.”

We are reminded daily that even though diversity is a core Canadian value, our country must do more to respect all languages, cultures, ethnicities, religions and ways of living.

As Governor General, I will embody our nation’s commitment to diversity and acceptance.

I’ve always believed the Rt. Honourable Kim Campbell held the country up to the correct standard when she said, “Canada is the homeland of equality, justice and tolerance.” Recognizing that one fifth of all Canadians were born somewhere else, it is more important than ever to make sure we live up to this commitment.

To meet this moment as Governor General, I will strive to hold together the tension of the past with the promise of the future, in a wise and thoughtful way.

Our society must recognize together our moments of regret, alongside those that give us pride, because it creates space for healing, acceptance and the rebuilding of trust. I will strive to build bridges across the diverse backgrounds and cultures that reflect our great country’s uniqueness and promise.

I pledge to meet Canadians in all provinces and territories to learn first-hand what people are facing, and what could be done to make their lives better.

On the strength of those Governors General who served before me, I commit to Canadians that I will move forward with humility and purpose to meet this moment in our shared history.

Whit and I, and our dog, Neva, are excited and honoured that Rideau Hall will be our family home. We also plan to spend time living and working at the Citadelle in the City of Québec.

I am truly honoured by this call to service and I will do my best each and every day to be worthy of it.

Thank you. Merci. Miigwetch. Nakurmiik

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