In recognition of a career dedicated to social justice, community service and advocacy for Inuit communities worldwide, Mary Simon, Arctic Institute of North America fellow, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD), honoris causa, at the Monday afternoon session of Western’s 309th Convocation.
Simon spoke to graduates from the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Brescia University College and the Faculty of Health Sciences asking them to keep in mind Canada’s bicentennial as not only a milestone for the country but as a reminder of how far the country still has to go in making gains towards reconciliation with its Inuit and First Nations communities.
“I have been asked, on a number of occasions, to help commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, as an Indigenous Canadian. As Indigenous Peoples, we have been here for thousands of years before the arrival of the first settlers. But let me tell you why I am participating in the 150th anniversary,” Simon said.
This year offers an opportunity to open new doors towards reconciliation, she noted. For hundreds of years, Indigenous Peoples have shared the same “land, water and air, and yet not all have shared equally in the abundance of this country” or been able to participate equally in society. This injustice is a stain on Canada and an obstacle to future prosperity, Simon said.
“The 150th birthday has caused me to realize the extent of the dark history of the past, revealed in today’s issues and events,” she noted.
“The government of Canada’s apology for the horrors of residential schools and the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have shown us a way forward. Look at these as a way forward, not just something revealing a problem. We must do better to build relationships. Students of today, your strength, courage and instincts will prevail and as a result of that, we will prosper as a country. What a birthday present it offers Canada, and all of us.”