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Mary Simon is Canada’s first Indigenous governor general

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The change comes as the nation grapples with its legacy of historical mistreatment of Indigenous people.

Mary Simon was installed Monday as governor general of Canada – the first Indigenous person to hold the position – where she will serve as the representative of the country’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

In an elaborate ceremony that spotlighted Canada’s reckoning of its treatment of Indigenous people, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Simon – a former journalist, ambassador, and Inuit community advocate – to the role, created more than 400 years ago to represent the colonial power on North American soil.

“We need people like Ms Simon because we need people who build bridges and bring us together,” Trudeau said at the ceremony.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking after Mary Simon was sworn in as the first Indigenous Governor General during a ceremony in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada [Patrick Doyle/Reuters]

Since May, hundreds of unmarked graves of children have been discovered at former “residential schools”, run for Indigenous children forcibly separated from their families in what a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called “cultural genocide”.

Please join me in officially welcoming Mary Simon as Canada’s 30th @GGCanada. Your Excellency, we need your vision of a stronger Canada, and I am looking forward to working with you on building a better country for everyone. https://t.co/Ijcm9zPjI2 pic.twitter.com/gWS1txh6Bz

— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 26, 2021

At her installation on Monday, Simon said she is honoured to accept this call to service and promises to meet Canadians all across the country to learn what people are facing and what could be done to make their lives better.

“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together,” Simon, 73, said after being sworn in.

She also addressed the issue of the residential schools, and reconciliation.

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

“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” she added, “reconciliation is getting to know one another.”

The ceremony, broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp also in Simon’s native Inuktitut language, was scaled back and masks were worn due to COVID-19.

A First Nations drumming circle greeted Simon as she arrived at the Senate for the ceremony where she took an oath.

As she took her seat at the head of the Senate chamber, her husband, Whit Fraser, turned to her, took a small bow and then sat down next to Simon.

The governor general performs functions such as swearing in governments and formally signing legislation, but is also the commander in chief of the military and can summon or dissolve Parliament.

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