Simon, Mary

Journalist, politician and essayist born in Kangiqsualujjuaq (Nunavik) in 1947.

Mary Simon, or Mary J. May Simon, was born in 1947 in Kangiqsualujjuaq, an Inuit village on the east coast shore of Ungava Bay in Nunavik, the second child born to an Inuk mother, and a father from Manitoba, who came to the Canadian Arctic to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Mary Simon’s high school education took place in both Kuujjuaq, Nunavik and the state of Colorado in the United States, providing her opportunities to learn the language and customs of both worlds.

Mary Simon began her career as a journalist in 1969, working for CBC North, producing radio and television programs in Inuktitut and writing for the Inuit Today magazine. Her focus shifted to politics in the 1970s as a reaction to the development of hydro-electric projects in the James Bay territory and its effects on Inuit life. She participated as a member of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (NQIA) in the negotiations leading up to the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in 1975. She assumed senior leadership roles for Makivik Corporation, the Inuit association legally responsible for administering the agreement. She served as Vice President from 1979 to 1982 and then President from 1982 until 1985. In 1993, she was appointed Secretary and Policy Co-Director of Canada’s Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Mary Simon served as president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada’s National Inuit Organization from 2006 to 2012 and was Chairperson of its National Committee on Inuit Education, from 2012 to 2014. In 2016, she was appointed Canada’s Minister Special Representative (MSR) responsible for the development of a new Shared Arctic Leadership Model.

Mary Simon’s international work began in the 1980s, as an Executive Council member of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), an organization representing Inuit in the circumpolar countries. She served as ICC’s President (1986 to 1992) and its Special Envoy (1992 to 1994). In 1996, she led Canada's negotiations during the creation of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of eight arctic states. Mary Simon is the first Inuk to hold ambassadorial positions; in 1994 she was named Commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission and became Canada’s Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs and from 1999 to 2001 she served as Canada’s Ambassador to Denmark.

As a public policy author, Mary Simon has numerous books, journal articles, essays and special reports on climate change and the environment, education and the preservation of language, notably Inuit: one Future, one Arctic (1997) and A New Shared Arctic Leadership Model / Un nouveau modèle de leadership partagé dans l’Arctique (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2017).

Mary Simon’s defense and promotion of Inuit rights and culture has been recognized with national and international awards, medals and citations: the National Order of Quebec (1992), the Gold Order of Greenland (1992), a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1998), a Gold medal from the Royal Geographic Society of Canada (1998), an Order of Canada (2005), the Symons Medal (2009) and the High North Hero Award (2018). Mary Simon has received eleven honorary doctorates of Laws from Canadian universities.

Mary Simon lives in Ottawa, Ontario with husband Whit Fraser.

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.

(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.