Governor General Mary Simon arriving at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki to meet with the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, on February 7, 2023. Photographs: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY / Click to view the gallery.

While the Canadian media across the search results write screaming headlines of their Governor General Mary Simon’s salary increase (apparently she got a $40,000 pay raise during the pandemic), who is on a five-day visit in Finland, the Finnish media directed most of their questions to President Sauli Niinistö about NATO and Russia and Russia and NATO at the press conference in the Presidential Palace on Tuesday.

Governor General Simon, who is the first Indigenous governor general of Canada, and who is known for having received international recognition for her work on topics related to the Arctic and the Indigenous people and for her efforts in advocating for Inuit rights, youth, education and culture, certainly would have had answers to deep, thoughtful questions should someone have asked her any. (We tried, but the busy schedule of the state visit wouldn’t allow it.)

She did, however, say that in last November Finland and Canada marked the 75th anniversary of their bilateral relationship. “I’m here to support unwavering support to Finland and the Arctic,” Simon said. “I’m convinced that this visit will further enhance our already strong partnership.”

Governor General Simon continued by stressing the importance of her good relations with President Niinistö and Finland in general. “Our long-lasting friendship is based on strong people-to-people connections, shared values and, most importantly, trust.” “We trust in each other to do what’s right,” Simon said and continued, “whether that is for climate change, for peace and security, for democracy, for human rights, for multilateralism, or for the Arctic.”

Simon said that she as an Inuk was raised in Canada’s Arctic, so she’s very familiar with the terrain and the “issues.”

Conditions typical of Arctic lands are extreme fluctuations between summer and winter temperatures; permanent snow and ice in the high country and grasses, sedges, and low shrubs in the lowlands; and permanently frozen ground (permafrost), the surface layer of which is subject to summer thawing. Three-fifths of the Arctic terrain is outside the zones of permanent ice. The long daily duration of summer sunshine partly compensates for the brevity of the Arctic summer.

According to a pioneering travel agency the Arctic Kingdom, the Canadian Arctic is often considered to be the best part of it all. “It is home to some of the largest populations of unique Arctic wildlife and unbelievable landscapes with some of the most iconic mountains in the north,” their website notes.

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In the Canadian Arctic, polar bears crawl and slide on the chest to cross a sheet of ice while tourists swill mulled wine and observe the action above on a hot balloon.

But as global warming advances important passages in the Canadian Arctic will likely melt and open to mariners between 2040 and 2050 for easy access to mineral and natural resources. In result, the passage will also open to shipping for trade between Asia and Europe. The question is: What if a great power wants to seize the passage and shut it down just to deny it to others?

“Canada is pleased to be an early supporter of Finland’s request to join NATO, which we believe will make this organization even stronger, and we look forward to working alongside you as part of this important organization,” Governor General Simon said.

The Finnish language and the Indigenous Inuktitut language share a similar concept of ‘not giving up.’ View Governor General Mary Simon explaining the meaning behind the Inuktitut word ‘ajuinata’ to the Finnish media in attendance at the press conference with President Sauli Niinistö on February 7, 2023. Video: TONY ÖHBERG/FINLAND TODAY

When Governor General Mary Simon assumed office in July 2021, the Canadian press noted that her appointment came during a time of reckoning in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.  At the time, news outlets reported discoveries of unmarked graves containing the remains of hundreds of children near former residential schools.

At her inauguration ceremony, she swore to advocate for mental health and work toward reconciliation.

“My view is that reconciliation is a way of life and requires work every day,” Simon said. “Reconciliation is getting to know one another,” Simon said.

Simon also revealed that her Inuk name is Ningiukudluk. Laughingly she said that it means a “bossy little old lady.”

She also shared memories from her childhood growing up: “I spent my adolescence in Nunavik living a very traditional lifestyle. Many months out of the year, we camped and lived on the land, hunted, fished and gathered food and maintained an active connection with our Inuit heritage and language.”

Simon continued: “From my father, I learned about the South and the non-native world from a man who had a profound love and respect for the North, its people and its natural beauty. Combined, these experiences, allow me to be a bridge between the different lived realities that together make up the tapestry of Canada. I can relate to all people, no matter where they live, what they hope for, or what they need to overcome.”