Nunavut MP speaks about return to parliament after extended leave
WARNING: This story contains details that may be distressing to some readers
Nunavut's member of parliament is back in action after an extended leave, calling attention to issues in Canada's North on a national stage.
NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq took to CBC's airwaves for an interview with Piya Chattopadhyay, host of The Sunday Magazine, to offer an account of what drove her to take a hiatus of eight weeks in late 2020.
"Since being back, it's been absolutely great," she said. "It was kind of nice to come back after the holidays. It's a bit quieter, typically."
Qaqqaq receded from public life in October of last year after a tour of housing conditions across her riding left her depressed, anxious and overwhelmed, she said.
"I couldn't fathom … how leadership at the national level could be okay with people living in such horrendous conditions," she explained.
"The intensity of my burnout, and depression and anxiety, just goes to show the severity of the lack of quality of life that individuals of the North are sharing."
Qaqqaq described how she went into the tour knowing the scale of the problem across the territory, but was still struck by the severity of the crisis.
"There were families whose youngest child had killed themselves in the home and they had to clean up … and [they] had no option of moving into a different home afterwards," she said.
"I've heard stories of parents' homes being deemed too mouldy … [and] unfit, and their disabled child being taken away from them, out of the territory — not just out of the home, out of the community and away from Nunavut, away from that child's homelands."
But equally, Qaqqaq said she had no expectation the federal government would respond.
"What we have seen since before my dad was born is the federal government [does] nothing for Inuit and northerners," she said.
"They don't care about the people in the North. They never had."
Profiled in office
Qaqqaq was elected in 2019 as the youngest MP in the country, at 25. Since then, she has been the subject of, at times, intense media interest as an outspoken and visible young Inuk woman.
She describes herself as the "lone voice for the biggest electoral riding in the world." But that hasn't always meant respect on Parliament Hill, she said.
In Sunday's interview, Qaqqaq described being repeatedly asked for her ID by parliamentary security, who assumed she wasn't a member of parliament.
"And I am one of the more recognizable people in the House of Commons. Not many people are walking around with face tattoos," she said with a laugh. "So, you know, after the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, tenth time, it becomes a little bit ridiculous."
Spaces like [parliament] should be inclusive ... but that's not what we see.- Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, MP for Nunavut
She said that treatment illustrates a problem with what she calls "the federal institution," and the House of Commons itself.
"Spaces like that should be inclusive … but that's not what we see," she said. "What we see is majority 40- to 50-year-old white men making huge decisions for populations [when] they couldn't even fathom [their] way of life."
That's at the root of issues like dependence on southern medical systems and Nunavut's imported school curriculum, she said.
"What is frustrating is that we are treated in the North like a foreign concept, like we are a different country or a different world, that we are not accessible," she said. "That is the fault of the federal government."
Practicing — and preaching — self-care
Since her return to politics in January, Qaqqaq has increased her visibility, granting interviews with national outlets, like APTN, and southern media, like TVO, to explain her decision to go on leave. CBC's Iqaluit bureau has not been able to secure an interview.
In her interview with Chattopadhyay, Qaqqaq described herself as a "hard-headed, stubborn individual." She said her determination to have an impact is why she worked virtually non-stop through most of her first year of office.
"I really, really burnt myself out," she said.
Now that she's returned, she's being more deliberate about taking time for self-care and self-appreciation.
Qaqqaq said she's trying on different hobbies, from painting — which she's "very happy to say I never have to do … again" — to cross-stitching and other "normal people things."
She's also braiding her hair as a way to spend time in positive self-reflection.
"I think that it's important to look at yourself and feel good about yourself," she said.
Qaqqaq said her time away from politics helped her appreciate her individual value and purpose, something she said is important for everyone to connect with.
"We are all individually purposeful in life," she said. "We have to make it as rich and beautiful as we can."
If you're experiencing emotional distress and want to talk, you can contact the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line at 1-867-979-3333 or the Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.