The Current

Amid celebration, some suspect Mary Simon's GG appointment is an 'election-style effort': First Nations writer

While Mary Simon's appointment as the first Indigenous governor general of Canada is "a mark of hope," it also raises questions about the Liberals' motivation for the decision, says an Anishinaabe writer and academic.

Niigaan Sinclair says Simon will be a 'strong voice' for Indigenous people, but 'will the Liberals listen?'

Mary Simon looks at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an announcement at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., on Tuesday. Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, has been named Canada's next governor general — the first Indigenous person to serve in the role. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

While Mary Simon's appointment as the first Indigenous governor general of Canada is "a mark of hope," it also raises questions about the Liberals' motivation for the decision, says an Anishinaabe writer and academic.

"There's ample reason to be suspicious of this appointment, particularly on a day in which the Liberal government is basically announcing a fall election, in that the governor general position is the last piece that needs to be put into place heading into an election campaign," said Niigaan Sinclair, a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and University of Manitoba professor.

Sinclair noted that the federal government made two other "remarkable announcements" shortly after Simon was appointed Tuesday.

The first was that the Manitoba Metis Federation and the federal government signed a self-government agreement that sets out steps to formally recognize the federation's jurisdiction over its citizens, elections and operations of Métis government.

Then, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed an agreement to return child welfare responsibilities to Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, a move Sinclair called "no coincidence." The community is among a number of First Nations that have discovered what's believed to be unmarked graves near former residential schools in recent weeks.

"There is clearly an election-style effort being put in by the Liberals, accompanying this [governor general] announcement," he told The Current's guest host Mark Kelley. 

Niigaan Sinclair, an Anishinaabe writer and professor, says he understands why some Indigenous people are suspicious of the motivation behind the Liberal government's appointment of an Indigenous person as the new governor general. (University of Manitoba)

Simon, an Inuk leader from Nunavik, in northern Quebec, and former Canadian ambassador to Denmark, will replace Julie Payette as governor general. Payette resigned from the post five months ago, after a scathing external review found she presided over a "toxic" and "poisoned" workplace at Rideau Hall.

Simon has an accomplished history of advocating for Inuit rights and culture, having served as past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the national organization representing Inuit in Canada, and as former head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a multinational non-governmental organization representing approximately 180,000 Inuit from Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Russia. 

She described her appointment as a "historic and inspirational moment for Canada, and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation."

WATCH | Mary Simon on becoming Canada's 1st Indigenous governor general

Governor general-designate Mary Simon says she is honoured and humbled to be named to the viceregal post.

1 year ago
Duration 1:01
Trudeau picks Mary Simon as the 30th governor general of Canada. She was the first Inuk to represent Canada as both the ambassador to Denmark and for circumpolar affairs.

In a statement Tuesday, Trudeau said Simon "has dedicated her life to advancing social, economic, and human rights issues for Canadian Inuit and Indigenous peoples," and that he is "confident that she will serve Canadians and promote our shared values with dedication and integrity."

Choice of Indigenous leader 'really powerful:' ITK president

Northerners and Indigenous people across Canada have been celebrating Simon's appointment as governor general-designate. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole also applauded the decision.

Natan Obed, current president of ITK, told CBC News that it was powerful "to see somebody like Mary Simon, who is an unquestioned Indigenous leader in this country and has been for decades, be recognized for her leadership and her service."

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says it was an emotional day seeing Simon appointed as governor general-designate on Tuesday. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

He said he does not believe the prime minister chose Simon because of the recent findings at residential schools or protests against Canada Day.

"Whether this scores political points, whether the prime minister has done this exclusively as a diversion tactic, I don't believe that for a second," said Obed, who was part of the advisory group that considered candidates for governor general.

Liberal track record raises suspicions, says Sinclair

However, Sinclair is skeptical. 

"We see the history of the current Liberals, [and] … they haven't done very well with a very strong Indigenous woman when it came to Jody Wilson-Raybould, so it may be a reason to be suspicious," he said.

"I certainly understand why Indigenous peoples would feel that way. And I, too, feel very suspicious [and] some hesitancy involving celebrating this as some kind of remarkable moment of reconciliation."

Rebecca Kudloo, president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the national organization representing Inuit women, said she's also heard the argument that Simon's appointment is a distraction from recent residential school discoveries.

But she warned that "us Inuit are not easily distracted."

Rebecca Kudloo is president of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the national organization representing Inuit women. She says she's pleased that Simon's focus will be on healing and reconciliation. (Tania Budgell)

"Knowing Mary Simon and her 40 years of dedicated work, she's not just going to be a symbol sitting there; she's going to do some work," said Kudloo. "And I like the fact that … her priority is healing and reconciliation, which goes in line with what Pauktuutit's mandate and our priority areas are."

Sinclair agrees Simon will be a force within government.

"This is not going to change Canada's trajectory of policy, but … in the ear of the prime minister, in the ear of cabinet, will be an Indigenous voice, and a very strong one, a very competent one," he said. 

"Now, she's only one voice. Will the Liberals listen? That's the big question."

Written by Kirsten Fenn, with files from CBC News. Produced by Julie Crysler.

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