MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Canada’s first Indigenous governor general on Tuesday, a seminal moment as the country seeks to reconcile with its Indigenous population after decades of systemic mistreatment.
As governor general, the appointee, Mary Simon, a diplomat and leading Indigenous rights advocate, will represent Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s official head of state. While the role is largely ceremonial, it is high profile and has wide symbolic resonance in a country where the governor general is the crown’s representative in Canada’s system of constitutional monarchy.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada called the appointment a significant moment. “Today after 154 years, our country takes a historic step,” he said at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. “I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment.”
The appointment of Ms. Simon, who served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark, comes as Canada is reeling, following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked Indigenous graves, many of them children, who attended church-run schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The finding of the graves has spurred national soul searching about the country’s discrimination against Indigenous people, who for decades have been forced to grapple with racism, inadequate access to health and economic opportunities and lack of autonomy.
The appointment follows the resignation of Julie Payette, who stepped down in January after months of media reports that she and a top adviser had belittled and publicly humiliated employees, often reducing them to tears. In response, the government commissioned an independent review that several Canadian news outlets said had blamed her for fomenting a toxic work environment.
Ms. Simon, an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, a village in northeastern Quebec, said on Tuesday that her appointment would help engender reconciliation.
“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward,” she said. “Indeed, my appointment comes at an especially reflective and dynamic time in our shared history.”
Indigenous leaders welcomed the appointment, calling Ms. Simon a skilled diplomat who was well placed to champion Indigenous concerns and act as a mediator between disparate groups.