Mary Simon, at the helm of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) for the past six years, has announced she will not seek a third term as president in the June 6 election.
“I am grateful to the Inuit of Canada for giving me the opportunity to represent them at a time when Arctic issues have gained great prominence domestically, and at the international level,” she wrote in a statement on ITK’s website titled “Thank You for a Wonderful Six Years.” “I don’t see this as ‘retirement,’ but as an opportunity to reconnect with my family, spend more time with my grandchildren and turn my focus to the issues that I feel most strongly about: education and mental health.”
ITK represents the 55,000 Inuit living in 53 communities spread throughout the Northwest Territories (NWT), Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador. When Simon ascended to leadership, the terms of turning Nunavut into a separate territory, the last major Inuit land claim, were still being settled. She has presided over that and many other changes.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the health statistics among the Inuit, and she had spoken out against the recent slashing of the federal health budget of several agencies, including ITK’s, calling the cuts “unconscionable.”
“Health indicators are not going in the right direction for Inuit,” she said in a statement at the time. “We’ve identified mental health programs and services as being critically needed now for Inuit. Health Canada cuts of this magnitude, in addition to the closure of the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) may just make a terrible situation worse.”
According to her biography on ITK’s site, Simon has served as president of Makivik Corporation, the organization that oversees implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, Canada’s first comprehensive Inuit land claims agreement. She also spent two terms as president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC, with the second “C” now standing for “Council”), which represents Inuit from Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia, and played a key role in crafting Canada’s northern policy as ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, the first Inuk to hold such a position.
In February Simon received a Diamond Jubilee Medal from Governor General David Johnston in honor of the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. She is also an Officer of the Order of Canada, among numerous other accolades she has received, including receiving the National Order of Quebec, the Gold Order of Greenland, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Governor General’s 125th Commemorative Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Symons Medal, ITK’s biography said.
The 64-year-old great-grandmother wants to spend more time with her family, she told the Globe and Mail, but does not plan to leave public life by any means.
“I will continue to be involved in some way in the issues that I am most passionate about,” Simon said in her statement, ending with the Inuktitut word for stop, or exit. “Taima for now.”