Inuit leader lectures on Arctic sovereignty

Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s national Inuit organization, will give a public lecture titled, "Inuit and the Canadian Arctic: Sovereignty Begins at Home", on Thursday, Oct 18, from 3:30 to 4:30pm in the Senate Chamber, on York’s Glendon campus.

Left: Mary Simon

Simon’s lecture will set out the Inuit position on Arctic sovereignty and propose ways to assert that sovereignty. She will endeavour to fulfill a number of objectives, including an overview of the creativity and practicality of the Inuit society’s domestic policies and measures needed to increase the well-being of the Arctic’s Inuit communities. The lecture is being co-hosted by Professor Anna Hudson, from the Dept. of Visual Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts, and Professor Ian Martin, from Glendon’s Dept. of English.

"This event is the first of a series of presentations of her talk, which Mary Simon intends to deliver across the country in a variety of public forums," said Martin. "It is going to be an event of considerable importance given the vast implications for Canada of the melting of the polar ice cap; the opening of the north-west passage to year-round sea traffic; the issue of contested sovereignty; and the collapse of the current Canadian government’s commitment to the Kelowna Accord. This lecture is very timely and covers a ‘hot’ basket of issues."

Simon’s lecture is based on a recent article with the same title, "Inuit and the Canadian Arctic: Sovereignty Begins at Home", published in the summer 2007 issue of Above and Beyond magazine. In the article, Simon posits some of the most important issues in negotiations concerning Arctic sovereignty, among these the inclusion of Inuit leaders in any relevant discussions. “The bedrock of Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic is the history, use and occupation of Arctic lands and waters by Inuit for thousands of years,” said Simon in the article. “There must be a credible power-sharing partnership between Inuit and the government, and a determination to overcome the obvious gaps in basic measurements of well-being that separate Inuit from all other Canadians.”

The event is also part of the Visual Arts Speakers Series at York University, sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts. "Inuit art is rarely talked about in the context of issues of Arctic sovereignty," notes Hudson. "Mary Simon’s lecture will challenge us to connect the dots: how do our southern collections of Inuit carvings, prints and wall hangings relate to Northern realities."

Born in Kangirsualuujuaq (George River) in Nunavik (Northern Quebec), Simon has devoted her life’s work toward gaining further recognition of Aboriginal rights and to promoting the study of northern affairs. She has earned the respect of many heads of government and international organizations through her diplomacy and firmness of purpose. Simon is a respected international adviser on important issues such as the environment, human rights, scientific research and development, and peace. She has received many honours for her leadership in developing strategies for Aboriginal and Northern affairs, including: the Order of Canada; National Order of Quebec; the Gold Order of Greenland; the National Aboriginal Achievement Award; and the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. She is a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America and of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Simon began her career as a producer and announcer with CBC Radio’s Northern Service. Her career included increasingly responsible positions with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. For 14 years, from 1980 to 1994, she served as executive council member, and later, president and special envoy of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. She was one of the senior Inuit negotiators during the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, the First Ministers’ Meetings in the 1980s and the Charlottetown Accord. Simon also served as a member of the Nunavut Implementation Commission in 1993. She was the ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade from 1994 to 2003; Canadian ambassador to Denmark, from 1999 to 2001; concurrently with her Circumpolar position, she was a member of the Joint Public Advisory Committee of NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation from 1997 to 2000; and was the Commission’s chairperson from 1997 to 1998.

Simon was also the chancellor of Trent University from 1995 to 1999. In 2001, she was appointed councillor for the International Council for Conflict Resolution with the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga. From November 2004 to February 2005, she worked with a team to facilitate and write the reports on the sectoral follow-up sessions announced by then prime minister Paul Martin at the conclusion of the April 19, 2004, Canada-Aboriginal Peoples’ Roundtable on Strengthening the Relationship on Health, Life Long Learning, Housing, Economic Opportunities, Negotiations, and Accountability for Results.Simon was special adviser to the Labrador Inuit Association on the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement from 2004 to 2005. She was elected president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami on July 7, 2006.

Her public lecture at Glendon is the first in a nation-wide speaking tour. The lecture will be delivered predominantly in English, but will also include some French and Inuit as well. The event is open to everyone. A shuttle bus leaves the Keele campus for Glendon campus at 2:15pm.  

For further information, contact Professor Ian Martin at or Professor Anna Hudson at