'Get our voices heard': 2 Inuit women make history in Quebec election

Two women are making history as the first female Inuit candidates in a Quebec provincial election.

Mona Belleau and Alisha Tukkiapik want to better represent Indigenous communities in provincial politics

Mona Belleau, left, and Alisha Tukkiapik say they will represent Indigenous interests if elected. (Mona Belleau photo submitted by Mona Belleau/Alisha Tukkiapik photo courtesy Quebec Solidaire)

History is being made in the upcoming Quebec provincial election: not one, but two Inuit women will stand in a Quebec election for the first time.

When Mona Belleau — running for the New Democratic Party of Quebec in the riding of Chauveau — announced her candidacy in mid-August, she became the first Inuk woman ever to run in a Quebec provincial election, the NDP-Quebec said.

It's really important that we stand up together and that we decide to get our voices heard.- Mona Belleau, candidate

Then on Sept. 9, Québec Solidaire announced Alisha Tukkiapik's candidacy in the northern riding of Ungava.

For Belleau, representing the interests of First Nations people and Inuit across the province is key.

"It's really important for me that we take an active role in different parts of society, whether it's research, or at an academic level, or in politics," she said. "It's really important that we stand up together and that we decide to get our voices heard."

Belleau and Tukkiapik may be running for different parties, but there is no hint of rivalry between the candidates.

"Knowing that we're two Inuit women, that's really amazing for me. I'm really happy about her candidacy also and I wish her a lot of luck," Belleau said.

A voice for Indigenous communities

For Belleau, pushing for greater representation and opportunity for First Nations people would be a priority if she were to be elected.

"I can represent — and I can also be a voice for — all Aboriginal and Inuit across the province. So that's something I'm really proud of," she said.

Belleau said the response to her candidacy has been very moving.

"I've had a lot of people tell me also, 'Oh, I've never voted at a provincial level, but I'm going to vote for you.' So that is something that's really touching," she said.

'We are two-thirds of Quebec'

The riding of Ungava covers almost half of Quebec's total land mass.

Roughly 60 per cent of the population of Ungava are Inuit, though Tukkiapik is the only Indigenous candidate running in the riding.

Many residents report feeling disenfranchised from political life. The region recorded the lowest voter turnout in the last provincial election, with only 41.5 per cent of registered voters turning out to vote.

It may not be an easy road for Tukkiapik. She says the high costs of travelling around northern Quebec means she is limited in how much she can directly interact with her potential constituents.

Additionally, Tukkiapik represents Québec Solidaire, which promises to hold consultations on Quebec independence and, ultimately, another referendum on the sovereignty question. Historically, many First Nations communities have rejected the prospect of separating from Canada by a wide margin.

How do you expect to win your province when you don't even want to help the two thirds of your province?- Alisha Tukkiapik, candidate

But Tukkiapik wants to set the record straight on separatism and referendums in Quebec.

"There are old scare tactics — where if you are voting for Québec Solidaire, you are voting for separatists, and you are voting for a referendum," she said.

"But all in all, a lot of people don't know it doesn't work that way."

Instead, she wants to focus on longstanding issues that communities in northern Quebec face, including the housing shortage, mental health, and the high cost of living.

"I hear it every day from people and what I see with my work," she said. "It shows how much we need the government to see — we need help," she said.

"We are two-thirds of Quebec, and how do you expect to win your province when you don't even want to help the two-thirds of your province?"

The Quebec provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 1.

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