Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Simon, an Inuk leader and former Canadian diplomat, as his choice to be the Queen’s representative in Canada earlier this month, replacing Julie Payette who resigned in January.
Trudeau was among the few people allowed to witness the ceremony in person as public health guidelines have set limits on attendance and mask requirements for anyone there in person.
Simon was greeted at the Senate building by a First Nations drumming circle and accompanied by a traditional Inuit drummer on her way into the Senate chamber.
Inside the chamber, a traditional Inuit oil lamp remained lit during the ceremony.
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Simon’s first speech as governor general focused on the themes of reconciliation and youth, as well as outlined her pledges to work to destigmatize mental health and to promote community-led climate change solutions, including those in Arctic communities bearing the brunt of a warming climate.
She spoke about the need to balance the “tension of the past” with the “promise of the future,” and vowed to carry out her work with “humility and purpose.”
“I am honoured, humbled and ready to be Canada’s first Indigenous governor general,” Simon said in her speech.
“I have heard from Canadians who describe a renewed sense of possibility for our country and hope that I can bring people together. I have heard from Canadians who have challenged me to bring a renewed purpose to the office of governor general to help Canadians deal with the issues we are facing.”
She spoke in both English and Inuktituk, in which she is fluent, as well as in French, which she does not speak but has promised to learn. Simon noted as several points that she stumbled over the pronunciation, but reiterated her commitment to learning the language.
“I’m having a little trouble pronouncing, but I’m learning,” she said, and thanked Canadians who have reached out to her over recent weeks to express their support as she vows to work at learning French.
Trudeau said Simon will be able to build bridges between Canadians of different backgrounds and brings a strong record of public service to the role.
“I am inspired by the historic nature of this moment, as our country continues to come to terms with the difficult realities of our collective past,” said Trudeau in a statement on her swearing-in.
“I know that, as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Her Excellency will devote herself to helping us as we confront these difficult truths together, walk the shared path of reconciliation, and build bridges between all those who call our country home.”
Though vaccination levels across the country continue to rise, Simon’s installation was a markedly more intimate affair for those attending in person. Traditionally, such ceremonies for her predecessors have drawn crowds into the hundreds including cabinet ministers, senators, MPs, justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, dignitaries and invited guests all packed into the Senate space.
This year, only 44 people attended in person — with many more watching the ceremony streamed live across the country — because of the pandemic restrictions.
Attendees were masked throughout, with the exception of those speaking or performing.
Officials also made a rare request for people not to line the streets outside the Senate building, where normally large crowds gather to witness the pomp and circumstance.