North·First Person

Interviewing the Governor General in my language felt like reconciliation

Reconciliation is real and I felt it that day, writes CBC North reporter Pauline Pemik, who interviewed Canada's new Governor General — in Inuktitut.

CBC North reporter Pauline Pemik was 1st to interview Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon, and she did it in Inuktitut

Governor General Mary May Simon with CBC North reporter Pauline Pemik at Rideau Hall. 'I thought about how many others would feel included, inspired and involved because of this resilient, strong Inuk woman,' Pemik writes.   (CBC)

This First Person article is the experience of Pauline Pemik, an Inuk woman and CBC reporter who lives in Iqaluit. Find out how to pitch your own story to CBC North here.

I never imagined that I would be the first person to interview Ningiukallak — or as she's known in English, Canada's new Governor General Mary May Simon. 

Last week I went on a work trip from Iqaluit to Ottawa. It wasn't like most work trips I've experienced in the past. In fact it was quite magical, almost like a fairy tale.  

Planning was nalunaq (a challenge). I was co-ordinating something that had never been done before — an Inuktitut interview with a Governor General. I was in Iqaluit and my guest was at Rideau Hall. How was this going to work out?  

I flew to Ottawa. After picking up my two videographers — and enough television equipment to build a shelter if we broke down — we made our way to the Princess Anne entrance at Rideau Hall. It was an eye-opener in so many ways.

Everyone there spoke in French — my colleagues Christian Patry and Mathieu Theriault, the security staff, everyone. It was beautiful to hear, like music. It kind of felt like I was far, far away, in another world. 

I observed the art on the walls, the squeaky old floors and wondered how old and how new all this was. Who walked these halls, and did they ever think I'd be walking down those very halls to interview the Governor General in Inuktitut?

I was really proud. Not of me, but all of us. I witnessed reconciliation in action, writes Pemik. (Pauline Pemik/CBC)

Deep in my own thoughts, preparing for my interview, I could see and feel that the Rideau Hall staff and people working around us were just as curious about me as I was about them — even through the masks and the distancing.  

I then got a brief tour of the areas in the house used for filming, like the "tent room" — a fancy room draped in pink and gold that sparked the little princess in me. 

It reminded me of my own dreams growing up and how proud I am of Inuit. Remembering what was done to them, what they have survived, and where I was standing at that moment — I was really proud. Not of me, but all of us. I witnessed reconciliation in action. In the now.

People who know me know that I don't get nervous. But this changed me.

 

As I found my way back to the other room, I walked by Neva, May Simon's golden retriever, sitting outside a screen door, head tilted to the side and staring at me with sad puppy eyes, maybe wondering who is this girl running around my house that talks like my mom? I said a quick hello and off I went. I didn't feel too bad knowing Neva had a pretty roomy backyard.

People who know me know that I don't get nervous. But this changed me. I admit I felt a few butterflies when I met face-to-face with May Simon.   

As she entered the room, everybody stood and all eyes were on her. I tried my best to speak clearly.

"Thank you for having us in your home, your excellency," I said, then, "mamianaq Inuktut qanuq taijaunajaqpa?" ("how do we say that in Inuktitut? We've never had to use that"). 

In Inuit culture, the highest rank in the house is and will always be anaanatsiaq — grandmother (you don't mess with grandma). But this was new territory for our language, with a new title or rank that we didn't even have a word for, except "advocate for the Queen."

In the interview, we talked about her decision to accept the role and what she wants to achieve. I thought about how many others would feel included, inspired and involved because of this resilient, strong Inuk woman.  

The interview was a first for all of us to put some little promises into action, writes Pemik. (CBC)

Today, Canada is facing some sad, hard truths about the many wrongdoings in our history, and what some even call genocide. Those past mistakes have now become our responsibility. That is the reality right now, if I may plainly put it. 

And if we want to move forward, we must do it together, hand in hand.

A journalist from a small CBC station in Iqaluit would not usually get the first interview with the new Governor General. The interview would typically be done in English or French, not Inuktitut, and not by an Inuk. 

Reconciliation is real and I felt it that day. It was right in our faces, whether we were ready or not. Strangers working together, three languages being spoken, people of all backgrounds nodding and co-ordinating with deep eye contact. Trust.

It would be the first-ever interview for May Simon as Governor General of Canada, but also a first for us, for all of us to put some little promises into action. 

"We cannot continue to turn a blind eye or say, 'that is not our responsibility, that is not how things are done,'" May Simon told me, in Inuktitut. 

"As a society, it is all our responsibility to be better towards each other and educate each other. I will do my best to guide us through that, as Governor General for all Canadians."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pauline Pemik is a reporter based in Iqaluit. She can be reached at pauline.pemik@cbc.ca.

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