It takes a lot to upstage the very regal Adrienne Clarkson. But Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General who has been under her shadow for four years, has finally — to Clarkson’s chagrin — done so.

Jean’s Rankin Inlet seal-skinning and heart-eating venture is becoming the stuff of legend. With it, she has made a ringing declaration of support for the rights and traditions of our native peoples. She has told the European Union, with its opposition to the seal hunt, where to get off. And she has turned herself into a star.

Her wielding of the Inuit ulu blade took courage. Not everyone was impressed. When Clarkson, in Iqaluit on the weekend, was asked about it, she replied, “I’ve eaten raw food here since 1971. It’s nothing new to me, OK?”

Whew! Sounds as though her successor’s act cut deep. Clarkson is rightfully proud of the work she did to raise the profile of our native peoples. It was a high priority for her. Her husband, John Ralston Saul, took it a step further. He produced a remarkable book, A Fair Country, which convincingly makes the case that the Canadian identity is neither anglophone nor francophone. Rather it’s our aboriginal ancestry, as he argues, which not only shaped us, but still sets us apart.

But Jean’s act, the sight of her bent over, cutting and eating raw seal heart, was startlingly powerful. It will not leave the mind. Instead of sounding catty, Clarkson should welcome it. Relations have been frosty between the two women. Only recently, Clarkson took what appeared to be a veiled shot at Jean for getting her geography wrong in mixing up British Columbia’s Coastal Mountains and the Rockies.

In another tut-tutting display, Clarkson said future aspirants for the GG’s position should be required to undergo a Canadian knowledge quiz.

She was a rare Governor General, but the thought that Jean can shine as well should not get under her skin. What both women have demonstrated is that the GG’s office is of far more than ceremonial importance.

Last December, Jean made the historic decision to save the Harper government by granting prorogation of Parliament right after it had begun a new sitting. Her ruling was defensible, but she let the country down in her refusal to explain her reasoning behind it. Democracies of the 21st century require more openness than that.

But with her iconic act at Rankin Inlet, Jean has shown her mettle. She has demonstrated that she is in a league with Adrienne Clarkson. More importantly, she has given our often forgotten native peoples an empowering image that will be remembered forever.

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