Mumilaaq Qaqqaq would give herself pep talks in the elevators at work. After the doors to the parliamentary elevators closed and she could be away from her fellow MPs, she said she’d often repeat three words to herself: I belong here. I belong here.
There were times when others tried to tell her she didn’t belong. She would be stopped in the hallways by security. People asked if she was someone’s assistant. Ms. Qaqqaq acknowledges she’s never really felt comfortable in the House of Commons.
“It’s a very uneasy place,” she said. “It’s a place where they make laws that result in Indigenous death and result in turmoil for a lot of our communities. I feel that.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Qaqqaq gave a farewell speech in Parliament where she spoke directly about how alienating her experience in the House has been. She spoke about how she didn’t feel safe there, and that she had to go into “survival mode” at work. “I didn’t hold back,” she wrote about the speech on Twitter. Despite working to convince herself that she belonged, she said it was clear that Parliament was not a place for her.
“I walked into a building on fire,” she said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “I ran into it with a big smile on my face, and I really had no clue what I was in for.”
Ms. Qaqqaq announced in May that she would not be seeking re-election. At 27, she’s one of the younger members of Parliament, representing all of Nunavut. She said her identity as an Indigenous woman made being in the House of Commons more difficult for her.
“The systems are built to work for certain people. It’s middle-aged white men,” she said. “It’s a weird thing to realize your lack of privileges, even though you’re in a position so full of privileges.”
Though Ms. Qaqqaq said she never really had the intention of being a politician, she ran for office because it was a way to help people in Nunavut. If Inuit had the right to self-determination, she said, she wouldn’t have necessarily entered public life.
Elected as an NDP MP in 2019, she said she worked too hard at the beginning, not taking two consecutive days off for the first several months. Since then, Ms. Qaqqaq has been open about taking leaves for her own well-being on two occasions: this past spring, as well as last fall. Last year’s leave was after she completed a housing tour of Nunavut, where she visited many of her constituents in houses full of mould and in various states of disrepair. She said she’s also been seeing a counsellor for the past few months, which she’s found helpful.
Trying to advocate in the House of Commons for adequate housing, affordable living and suicide prevention in Nunavut has been no easy feat, she said.
“To be in that space constantly, fighting, trying to basically justify lives of Indigenous people and Inuit,” she said, “was something I did for months and months. It’s really draining.”
Though she’s critical of the Parliament, she said she’s always felt supported by her party, the NDP. In her Tuesday speech, she thanked Leader Jagmeet Singh for listening to her and making her feel safe to speak her mind.
Ms. Qaqqaq is clear that she will continue as an MP for the rest of her term, and said one of her priorities is working to get Indigenous languages included on federal election ballots. Even if an election is called for this fall, which has been rumoured for months, Ms. Qaqqaq said she wants to get as much as she can done before leaving.
When asked what she’ll do when her term is over, Ms. Qaqqaq said she already has a few ideas.
“There’s such a wide variety of things that really get me excited and interested,” she said.
She has really liked working with youth in the past, she said, and would consider working again in the Inuit employment or suicide prevention fields. On different notes, she mentioned she’s interested in the Indigenous law program at the University of Victoria, and that she really loves beading and wants to learn more design and sewing.
Ms. Qaqqaq also just re-sanded and repainted her deck, which she enjoyed. “I’m kind of tempted to see if I like carpentry,” she said.
Though Ms. Qaqqaq said she still wants to do work that ultimately helps people, she wants to find a different way than representing them in Parliament. She feels she’s done a good job as an MP, she said, but now she’d rather do something else.
“That to me sounds a lot more fulfilling,” she said, “than trying to get re-elected to an institution I’m not a fan of anyway.”
The Globe and Mail
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.