The Queen has told Canada’s first indigenous Governor General Mary Simon she is “taking over a very important job”.
The head of state and the Governor General spoke via video link on Thursday, a few weeks after her appointment which comes in the wake of a scandal over the nation’s long mistreatment of indigenous people.
The Governor General is the Queen’s representative in Canada and acts on the monarch’s behalf to uphold the country’s system of responsible government.
Speaking from Windsor Castle, the Queen told Ms Simon, a former ambassador and lifelong advocate for indigenous peoples: “So, you’re taking over a very important job.”
The Governor General, who formally took takes up her role on Monday, replied: “Yes, I’m very privileged to be able to do this work over the next few years, I think it’s vitally important for our country.”
Her appointment follows the revelation that hundreds of unmarked graves of children have been found in the grounds of former residential schools across Canada — institutions to which indigenous children were forcibly relocated for generations.
Ms Simon has attained national and international recognition for her work on Arctic and indigenous issues, and as an advocate for Inuit rights and culture.
The Queen said to the Governor General: “Your own work, you’ve been very busy.”
Speaking from her official residence, Rideau Hall, in the capital Ottawa, Ms Simon replied: “Yes, I’ve devoted a lot of my time to working on Arctic issues because I’m from the Arctic, and also working to get a lot of things organised with the indigenous people and the Inuit of Canada.”
The Queen’s new representative replaces Julie Payette, who resigned in January following a scathing independent report on the toxic work environment that had developed during her tenure.
Ms Simon was one of the senior Inuit negotiators during the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution during First Ministers’ conferences that took place from 1982 to 1992, as well as during the 1992 Charlottetown Accord discussions.
In 1994, prime minister Jean Chretien appointed Ms Simon as the first Canadian ambassador for circumpolar affairs. She took the lead role in negotiating the creation of an eight-country group known today as the Arctic Council.
She also served as Canadian ambassador to Denmark, was a member of the Joint Public Advisory Committee of the North American Free Trade Agreement Commission on Environmental Cooperation and was the Chancellor of Trent University.