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OTTAWA: Canada named Mary Simon on Tuesday as its first indigenous governor general — Queen Elizabeth II’s official representative in the Commonwealth country — as the nation faces a reckoning with its colonial history. “Today, after 154 years, our country takes a historic step,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Trudeau told a news conference. “I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment.”

Simon, a former broadcast journalist, diplomat and advocate of indigenous rights, has previously served as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization. She was also leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents Inuit in all Arctic countries, and Canada’s first Inuk ambassador in Denmark.

Simon has been credited with helping negotiate a 1975 landmark deal between Cree, Inuit and Quebec’s provincial government, described as Canada’s first modern treaty with First Nations. Her appointment as viceregal representative, responsible for giving royal assent or making acts passed by parliament law as well as heading Canada’s military, comes at a difficult period in the country’s relations with First Nations.

The discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked pupils’ graves at former indigenous residential schools has convulsed Canada, provoking anger and grief in indigenous communities. Until the 1990s, some 150,000 Indian, Inuit and Metis youngsters were forcibly enrolled in 139 residential schools run by the Catholic church on behalf of the government. More than 4,000 students died of disease and neglect.

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