Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and Whit Fraser arrived in Kuujjuaq, Que., Monday, the beginning of a week-long trip that will take them to Kangiqsualujjuaq — near where Simon was born — Kangiqsujuaq and Inukjuak.
It's Simon's first official visit to the region where she was born since she was appointed to the viceregal office in July 2021, and her first visit in three years.
"It's exciting and we are thrilled to have our very own Ms. Simon to come home as one of her first tours, especially to her home region," said Johnny Peters. Now retired, Peters worked closely with Simon at the Makivik Corporation for many years.
"She is the Queen's representative and that will really show the world who we are and where we are," Peters said.
Simon began her trip Monday by meeting officials from Makivik Corp. as well as the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health & Social Services, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (the school board) and Qarjuit Youth Council, all bodies stemming from the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the first modern comprehensive land claim in Canada.
"When I worked with Mary, our board consisted of only men," Peters recalled. "She was the only woman on the board and she was our president. Although we all worked hard together, she led our team and [made] executive decisions. She was wonderful to work with."
Makivik president Pita Aatami said in his opening remarks that Simon's appointment has given exposure to the region and to Inuit that they never would have received, but he also noted that since she took the office negotiations with the Quebec government have stalled.
"At this time, there's really no movement," Aatami said.
"Canada is on board and things are happening, but Quebec has talked about bringing an observer for the self-determination process ... I said we don't need an observer, we need a negotiator that's going to work with us."
Simon told the group about her recent meeting with Premier Francois Legault in Quebec City where, she said, he committed to appoint a negotiator. "He's on record saying that," she said.
Simon said she had some good discussions with Legault. "I tried my best to speak French, I'm still not quite there yet, but he did say to the media that I need to improve my French," she said with a chuckle.
Simon describes herself as someone who rarely gets excited, but this week is different.
"Yesterday I was thinking of my early childhood, when I was a young teenager especially, after we were at the camp on the George River. We would be coming here and we would be so excited we were almost squealing," she told a room of Inuit leaders Monday morning.
"I kind of felt like that yesterday."
Later Monday, a Canadian Rangers guard of honour will greet Simon in front of Katittavik Town Hall, where she'll then meet with the mayor.
She'll also tour the Isuarsivik Regional Recovery Centre, which blends Inuit traditional practices with modern practices to treat addiction and trauma, and which was recently recognized with an Arctic Inspiration Prize.
Simon will also meet students at Jaanimmarik High School and visit Elders at the Tusaajiapik Elders' Home.
On Tuesday, she'll head to Kangiqsualujjuaq, at the mouth of the George River, a community close to the camp where she was born.
On Wednesday, she'll spend time in Kangiqsujuaq visiting local officials and organizations. On Thursday, she'll visit Inukjuak, where she'll drop by the Avataq Cultural Institute.
The visit wraps up Friday with a return to Kuujjuaq.