North

'This isn't about me:' Rookie Nunavut MP wants focus on problems of the North

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said she plans to be a strong Arctic voice in Ottawa.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq said she plans to be a strong Arctic voice in Ottawa

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is seen in this undated handout photo. Few newly elected members of Parliament get to enjoy a parade in their honour after an election victory. But to Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the freshly minted 25-year-old NDP MP from Nunavut, the line of trucks snaking through the dark Tuesday night in her hometown of Baker Lake was no big deal. (The Canadian Press/NDP)

Few newly elected members of Parliament get to enjoy a parade in their honour after an election victory.

But to Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the freshly minted 25-year-old NDP MP from Nunavut, the line of trucks snaking through the dark Tuesday night in her hometown of Baker Lake was no big deal.

"We love parades here," she said. "We do it for weddings, after tournaments — that's one of the things that we do. It was cool that it was for me."

It seems characteristic. Qaqqaq, who had no previous political experience before defeating rivals, including former Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq in Monday's election, said in an interview Wednesday that's she's more interested in community than personal attention.

Two years ago, she participated in Daughters of the Vote, a program that brings young women to the House of Commons to speak about their visions for their country and community. Qaqqaq's speech, in which she spoke about tragically high rates of Inuit suicide, drew two standing ovations.

Watch the speech by Mumilaaq Qaqqaq (who goes by "Trina") in 2017:

The speech left her emotionally drained.

"I went to my hotel room. I cried. I took a nap. I woke up, turned my phone back on and my phone was blowing up."

Her speech was an internet sensation, with thousands of views. But she couldn't help feeling that people had gotten her wrong.

This is about everyone in my territory.- Mumilaaq Qaqqaq

"This wasn't my emotion. This was the hurt of so many people that I just expressed," Qaqqaq recalled. 

"Everybody was talking about how courageous I am and how brave. But that's not the point. 

"Thank you all for your kind words, but we need to take action. This isn't about me. This is about everybody in my territory. I'm trying to relay a message: we've been asking for help for so long and where is it?"

Strong Arctic voice in Ottawa

Her election victory has brought her even more attention and a long line of media requests.

So far, her bio is short. She grew up in Baker Lake but now lives in the territorial capital of Iqaluit. She has worked for the government of Nunavut as well as Inuit organizations and Nunavut's power utility, mostly in Inuit employment and wellness.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq at her campaign launch event in the pavilion of the Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

She doesn't consider her relative inexperience and youth to be a disadvantage.

"I'm passionate and I know what I'm talking about it. [Youth] doesn't mean I have less capability to do something. It's not something that is a factor to me."

What is a factor is her culture, which she says "is everything to me." She speaks Inuktitut, although not as fluently as she would like, and plans to keep studying the language as an MP.

She also wears what she calls "traditionally inspired" facial tattoos. Qaqqaq said she's grateful to the women who preserved the tradition despite missionary suppression.

Her return to the House is likely to bring as much passion and eloquence as her first appearance. After one MP, Aglukkaq, was criticized for not fighting hard enough for the North and another, Hunter Tootoo, was booted from the Liberal caucus, Qaqqaq said it's time Ottawa heard a strong Arctic voice.

"The federal government has left us on the back burner too long," she said. "That's unacceptable for Canada.

"How loud do we need to speak in order for people to listen? How often do we need to ask before people help? For Nunavumiut, it's going to be refreshing."

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