A mix of excitement, skepticism, and residual trauma was felt by members of First Nation and Métis communities in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area as Mary Simon was named the first Indigenous Governor General of Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment Tuesday morning in Ottawa. Simon was the first Inuk to serve as an ambassador for Canada when she was posted to Denmark. She was a senior Inuit negotiator during the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution and during the Charlottetown Accords. Simon replaces Julie Payette, who resigned earlier this year.
“It’s about time,” said Shirley Jensen-Klassen, an elder with Fort McMurray #468 First Nation. “We have a voice now, someone who can listen to and understand our stories. We have been through hell and back and all these flashbacks are coming out. They really did try to wipe us out, but we are still here.”
Jensen-Klassen is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, while her mother was a survivor of the residential school system. The recent news of unmarked graves found at former residential school sites across the country has resulted in Jensen-Klassen seeking counselling.
McMurray Métis CEO Bill Loutitt praised the news in a video on the group's Facebook page.
“Representation is vital for our youth to have someone to look up to and having an Inuk as the Queen’s representative is welcoming news," he said. "We hope her new position will speed up the reconciliation that needs to happen and help educate the rest of the nation and world on issues First Nation, Métis and Inuit people are facing."
Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) offered congratulations to Simon and called the announcement "big news for Canada." He was skeptical of what changes the appointment would lead to for many Indigenous communities, though.
“If you wanted to do something, maybe give clean drinking water to a lot of First Nations that still don’t have clean drinking water,” said Adam, who is also a survivor of the residential school system. “My philosophy is that I don’t listen to colonizers, I do what the nation is supposed to do for the nation.”
For Kendrick Cardinal, president of the Fort Chipewyan Métis Association, Simon’s appointment serves as a move forward for Indigenous relationships with Canada.
“It would be an honour to meet her and congratulate her [in person],” said Cardinal. “It’s a good step, but there is still much [for Canada] to do.”
For 24/7 crisis support, call the Indian Residential School Survivor line at 1-800-721-0066.
Scott McLean, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today