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Defenders for Human Rights
Mary Simon

Mary Simon Cultural Identity and Education

GRADE LEVELS = 7 to 12  /  SUGGESTED TIME = Five 60 minute class periods

Mary Simon is an advocate for Inuit rights and culture in Canada. She has represented the Inuit to the Canadian government and the United Nations, including work that led to the Inuit people’s inclusion in the Constitution in 1982.

Born in Kangisualuujjuaq, Nunavik (Quebec), Mary moved with her to Kuujjuaq, where she attended a federal day school. Mary’s father was an Englishman and a fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company and her mother was an Inuk. After Mary completed the sixth grade, she was homeschooled by her father.

In the 1970s, Mary worked for the CBC’s Northern Service. Seeking an opportunity to express her personal and political views more openly, she left to work with the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (NQIA) which is dedicated to supporting Inuit rights and interests in Nunavik. After the signing of the 1975 land claims agreement, the NQIA was renamed the Makivik Corporation. Eventually becoming president of the Makivik, Mary was involved in the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

She has worked with the Inuit Circumpolar Council and the Arctic Council. She was also Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and Canadian Ambassador to Denmark.

Beginning in 2006, Mary served two terms as the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), which focuses on the advancement of Inuit rights, where she advocated for more attention to health and education issues among youth in the North. She has acted as chairperson for the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation and until 2014 Mary was the chairperson of the National Committee on Inuit Education.

Among many other distinctions, Mary is an Officer of the Order of Canada, Governor General's Northern Medal, Recipient of the National Order of Québec, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Gold Order of the Canadian Geographical Society and the Symons Medal. She has been inducted into the International Women’s Forum Hall of Fame. She is a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America and of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.