Mary Simon named minister of Indigenous Affairs' special representative on Arctic

Prominent Inuit leader Mary Simon has been named the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs’ special representative on Arctic issues.

'The bottom line is that it's about the people who live in the North,' Simon says

Mary Simon, left, with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett at the Taste of the Arctic event earlier this year. 'It’s the first time in any of my numerous jobs that I have the opportunity to work directly with a federal minister,' says Simon. (submitted by ITK)

Prominent Inuit leader Mary Simon has been named the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs' special representative on Arctic issues.

Simon, originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, in Northern Quebec will be working with Carolyn Bennett on a new Shared Arctic Leadership Model.

Part of Simon's work will be to assist the federal government to implement the US-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy and Arctic Leadership.

"I am very very excited," says Simon.

"It's a great opportunity to continue to work on the issues that are confronting us in the Arctic."

Simon is well-known in Inuit communities. She's a past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national Inuit organization, chairperson of the National Committee on Inuit Education and was involved in the creation of the Arctic Council.

She's also the recipient of numerous national and international accolades. She's an officer of the Order of Canada, a member of the National Order of Quebec, and a member of the Gold Order of Greenland. 

'It's about the people'

A big part of Simon's new position will be carrying out the Trudeau-Obama shared Arctic leadership model, something Simon interprets as working on "how we can engage and involve the North more in decision making."

'The bottom line is that it’s about the people who live in the North,' Simon says. (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada)

Simon admits that it's a big job and says it will take a lot of coordination to help Northern communities do things like getting away from diesel power generation and towards more green energy. 

But Simon's role is not limited to conservation and environmental issues. Her mandate also includes tackling unemployment, education and health and wellness issues. 

"We're trying to build more of a momentum in terms of closing the gap in living conditions for our people," says Simon.

For Simon, all of these issues are part of a whole. 

"The bottom line is that it's about the people who live in the North."

Direct link to federal government

Despite her decades of work, Simon says this position will be a unique chance to work closely with the federal government.

"It's the first time in any of my numerous jobs that I have the opportunity to work directly with a federal minister," says Simon.

Simon says an important part of her work will be to engage territorial governments, land claims organizations and Inuit leaders.

"The first priority for me is to make sure that we engage in a discussion and a process where the North and Northern leaders and Northern people are a very integral part of the decision making process."

'A good choice'

Nunavut's premier Peter Taptuna was one of the first Northern leaders to respond to Simon's appointment, tweeting enthusiastically Friday. 

The government also sent an official statement to CBC.

"Our offices have already been in contact with each other to begin dialogue on that important work," he says in that release. 

Rebecca Kudloo the president of national Inuit women's organization Pauktuutit said she reached out to Simon to offer her best wishes.

"I'm very glad that Mary has been appointed," says Kudloo. "She's very well respected and I know she will do a great job."

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern also had words of praise for Simon.

"Mary is a good choice and more than capable in this role, especially given her experience and reputation," stated Redfern.


Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.