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Thursday, September 29, 2022
New governor general a role model, says Niagara Indigenous leader

With the appointment of Mary Simon as the first governor general of Indigenous heritage, the executive director of the Niagara Regional Native Centre, says he is happy his children have someone to look up to – but worries the position is untenable for an Indigenous person.

“As a father of children, I think it’s important for them to see Indigenous people in leadership perspectives,” Karl Dockstader said in an interview.

He pointed out that while Simon will be a role model to Indigenous youth of today, she had no such role model when she was a kid.

“She would never have seen an Indigenous person in this high-profile leadership role,” he said.

“In fact, in the community where she grew up, she wasn’t even allowed to learn French.”

Simon’s lack of French has been a controversial subject since her appointment. She was educated in a federal day school in northern Quebec where French was not part of the curriculum.

The new governor general is still bilingual, fluent in English and Inuktitut. The 73-year-old has promised to start learning French.

The governor general is the de facto head of the Canadian military, a responsibility that Dockstader said poses potential conflict.

“I would refuse a role like that. Because, as the head of the military, what if the military were called in to do something about the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the Wet’suwet’en people standing in the way,” he said.

“Is an Indigenous governor general going to be put in a position where she’s going to have to authorize the use of the Canadian military against her fellow Indigenous people?”

Regardless of the potential for conflict, Dockstader is happy to see Indigenous Peoples gain high-profile positions outside of Indigenous culture.

“I’m never going to be a NASCAR driver but when Indigenous people do well in stock car racing, I love it,” he said.

“Similarly, while I believe that our body politic exists outside of the body politic of Canada. I respect the work that Mary Simon has done.”

With the national narrative surrounding the discovery of unmarked children’s graves at residential schools across the country, the possibility of tokenism on behalf of the Trudeau government cannot be overlooked.

“Mary Simon has put in the work, so I want to be careful about just saying that she’s been tokenized. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that it seems like we are very much on the doorstep of an election,” said Dockstader.

He expressed concern that the Trudeau government was trying to garner favour with the appointment.

“And I hate to say it because Mary Simon is very qualified. But if so, why wasn’t Mary Simon governor general before Julie Payette?”

The possibility of Simon’s appointment pushing Indigenous issues forward seems even less likely in the role of governor general.

“That’s where I’m the least excited. Because it’s a figurehead role, I don’t think there’s much room to resist the colonial status quo that has clearly been bad for Indigenous people,” he said.

But these issues do not diminish the work that Simon has done on behalf of Inuit people in Nunavut, he said. “She helped negotiate the independence of Nunavut.”

Just as Dockstader referred to the separate and distinct natures of Indigenous and Canadian political systems, there are people who are critical of Nunavut’s independence since it is still under the umbrella of Canadian Confederation, he said.

Dockstader emphasized that independence was the desire of Inuit people and noted the positivity that they had a hand in deciding their future.

“(Nunavut is) very politically unique and it was a solution for Inuk people by Inuk people,” he said.

Simon was on the committee of the Nunavut Implementation Commission and helped establish the territory's independence in 1999.

She was also the first Inuk to hold an ambassadorial position with the Canadian government, serving as the ambassador of circumpolar affairs and later as ambassador to Denmark.