‘I just call her Mary:’ Governor General Mary Simon goes home

Governor General Mary Simon is spending the week in Nunavik, the Inuit territory in northern Quebec where she was born and raised.

Her first stop was her hometown of Kuujjuaq, an Inuit community of about 2,600 located about 1,400 km north of Montreal.

“It’s really great to be here,” said Simon during a meeting with Nunavik leaders “I always tell people I don’t get excited hardly ever, I’m sort of on an even keel, but when we were about to land here yesterday I was thinking of my early childhood, after we were at that camp on the George River we would be coming here.

“We would be so excited we were almost squealing, so I kind of felt like that yesterday.”

Many Inuit in Kuujjuaq felt the same way. Dozens turned out to cheer Simon as she paid a visit to city hall.

“I married her brother, Johnny May,” said Louisa Berthe-May “Mary was my very best friend growing up, I never suspected she would go up that high, but she did I’m so proud of her, yeah… we miss her though!”

Simon was visibly touched, hugging Berthe-May and others who gathered to greet her.

Her arrival was also received with some pomp and circumstance… northern style, with the Canadian Rangers, a northern-based military reserve, serving as a guard of honour.

Governor General Mary Simon
Simon meets the Canadian Rangers who served as the honour guard on her visit. Photo: Tom Fennario/APTN.

Simeonie Parthe, a sergeant with the rangers, said this was his third time serving as honour guard for a Governor General… but this time was different.

“This time we really enjoy it, because we know her pretty good,” said Parthe with a smile.

One thing no one seemed able to figure out: how to say “Her Excellency” in Inuktitut.

“I don’t know, good question,” said Kuujjuaq resident Jennifer Watkins “I mean, I just call her Mary. She’s my friend!”

Aside from the celebration, there were some politics discussed during a meeting with Nunavik leaders.

The president of Makivik Corporation (the body that represents Nunavik’s interests) Pita Aatami used the occasion to speak on how Quebec is holding up Inuit self-determination.

“Being in Quebec, we’ve had issues, we’re still hoping Quebec will name a negotiator to the self-determination file, Canada is on board,” said Aatami.

Simon responded that she recently met with Quebec Premier Francois Legault and that he not only promised to appoint a negotiator but to build a much-needed hospital in Nunavik.

“A hospital where they can actually do surgery, cause right now everybody has to be shipped out for any operations,” said Aatami to the round table.

Simon’s visit to Nunavik will last until Friday and also include stops in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Kangiqsujuaq, and Inukjuak.

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