Mary Simon reflects on loss of Indigenous languages at event launching UN decade

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. Mary Simon says she wants to see the language of Inuktitut not just survive, but grow.

The Inuk leader, who became the first Indigenous person in Canada appointed to the role last year, says those who can speak it should do so whenever they can.

She used herself as an example, saying she made the point of speaking Inuktitut during her installation as the country’s 30th Governor General and while delivering last fall’s throne speech.

Simon addressed the issue of preserving Indigenous languages during a speech today in Ottawa at an event launching the UN decade of Indigenous languages.

Growing up, Simon says she learned English as a second language while attending a federal Indian day school, where she wasn’t allowed to speak Inuktitut.

She says Indigenous people never chose to give up their languages and instead had many of them taken away by “force” through government and church-led assimilation policies like the residential school system.

In delivering her remarks, Simon switched between speaking Inuktitut and English as well as some basic French, which she says she’s still working on.

“You can tell I’m still learning French,” she said with a laugh, after delivering a sentence.

“But I’m trying.”

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