Mary J. May Simon,(Inuktitut: Ningiukadluk, born 1947 in Kangirsualujjuaq, Nunavik, Northern Québec) is a former Canadian diplomat and current fellow with the Arctic Institute of North America. Early in her career, she was a producer and announcer for CBC North, and later entered public service as secretary of the board for the Northern Quebec Inuit Association. Simon was Canada's first Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, and was a lead negotiator for the creation of the Arctic Council. She also later served as ambassador to Denmark.
Simon was born to Bob Mardon May and Nancy May (née Angnatuk-Askew). She attended Kuujjuaq Federal Day School in Kuujjuaq (formerly Fort Chimo), Fort Carson High School in Colorado, and completed her high school via correspondence in Kuujjuaq. She is the second oldest of eight children (four brothers and three sisters), and has three children of her own (two sons and one daughter).
Originally a producer and announcer for CBC North, she began her career as a public servant by being elected Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association. In 1978, she was elected as Vice-President of the Makivik Corporation, later on becoming president, a position she held until 1985. During this period she also became involved with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Canada's National Inuit Organization.
From 1980 to 1994 she served as Executive Council Member, President, and Special Envoy of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC). During this period she assisted in obtaining approval from the Russian Government to allow the Inuit of the Chukotka Peninsula to participate in ICC. In 1986, as President of ICC, Simon led a delegation of Canadian, Alaskan, and Greenland Inuit to Moscow and then to Chukotka to meet with Russian Officials as well as the Inuit of the Far East of Russia. In 1987 the ICC was successful in efforts the resulted in the Russian government allowing Russian Inuit to attend the 1989 ICC General Assembly held in Alaska.
Simon was one of the senior Inuit negotiators during the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution, during First Minister Meetings that took place from 1982 to 1992, as well as during the 1992 Charlottetown Accord discussions.
She also served as a member of the Nunavut Implementation Commission in 1993.
In 1994 Simon was appointed by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to be the first Canadian Ambassador for Circumpolar Affairs, a position she held until 2003. Acting on instructions from the government of Canada she took the lead role in negotiating the creation of an eight country council known today as the Arctic Council. The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 formally established the Arctic Council which includes the active participation of the indigenous peoples of the circumpolar world. During her Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and later as the Canadian Government Senior Arctic Official, she worked closely with the Indigenous Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council, and the seven other Arctic Countries it comprises.
During this time period she also:
- held the position of Canadian Ambassador to Denmark (1999–2001),
- was a member of the Joint Public Advisory Committee of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Commission on Environmental Cooperation (1997–2000) and held the chairperson position for the commission from 1997 to 1998,
- was the Chancellor of Trent University, and
- was appointed Councilor for the International Council for Conflict Resolution with the Carter Center in 2001
From November 2004 to February 2005 she assisted with the facilitation and write-up of reports on the "Sectoral Follow-up Sessions" announced by Prime Minister Paul Martin following the April 19, 2004 Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable on Strengthening the Relationship on Health, Life Long learning, Housing, Economic Opportunities, Negotiations, and Accountability for Results.
From 2004 to 2005 Simon was special advisor to the Labrador Inuit Association on the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement, and was appointed president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami on July 7, 2006.
Mary Simon has received national recognition for her leadership and innovation in developing strategies for Aboriginal and Northern affairs.
- Order of Canada, November 17, 2005,
- National Order of Quebec, January 21, 1992,
- the Gold Order of Greenland(1992),
- the 1996 National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1998), and;
- Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (October 22, 1998).
- Symon Medal, November 3, 2009,
Current positions and memberships
Mary May Simon is a Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America and of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. She has received honorary doctorate of law degrees from McGill University, Queen's University, Trent University, the University of Guelph and the University of Alberta.
Other positions currently held
- Advisor to the European Space Agency (Arctic Monitoring Program)
- Chairperson, the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation
- Patron, Northern Youth Abroad Program
- Board Member, Indspire
- Member, Board of Governor's, University of the Arctic
- Board Member for the Canadian Millennium Foundation
- Council Member, Crossing Boundaries National Council
- Treasurer and Board Member, Tungasuvvingat Inuit Centre (Ottawa based centre for Inuit living in Ottawa and the surrounding area)
- Board Member, International Institute for Sustainable Development
- Member of Advisory Circle, Walter and Duncan Gordon Charitable Foundation
- Council Member, The National Police Services Advisory Council
In 1996 Cider Press published Simon's book titled Inuit: One Arctic, One Future