For Trina Qaqqaq, to be an Inuk is to be human.

“I’m a person. I’m a human being, and that’s it,” she says, explaining the English translation of the word.

The 23-year-old from Baker Lake, Nunavut, represented her community at the Daughters of the Vote event in Ottawa — where 338 young women were chosen from every federal riding to take their seat in Parliament.

Qaqqaq says over the last 150 years, that basic humanity of Indigenous people has been forgotten.

“Basic human rights would be nice,” she says.

“How do you expect anybody to excel when they go to school hungry, or when they live in an overcrowded house or when they have ... relatives who have committed suicide or when they don’t have the proper mental health resources they need?”

Improving access to mental health services has the potential to save lives in a community where the suicide rate is 11 times higher than the national average.

Most Arctic communities are home to only a few hundred people, so even one death plunges everyone into mourning, explains Qaqqaq. She told her Daughters of the Vote peers about the ripple effect of each death.

“It affects the whole community, not just the family, not just the friends.”

Talking about the suicide crisis on a national stage showed Qaqqaq that people in southern Canada care about the issue. She is now struggling with how to take advantage of the attention and use it to bring about change.

“There [are] just so many stereotypes we live with. They just simply don’t know.”

“I’ve had professors from different universities contact me,” she says. “People want me to tell them what to do and how can [they] help, and I’m like, ‘Well, now I need to educate you on everything.’”

Education is where Qaqqaq is pinning her hopes for the future, and it’s not just in improving access to schools and resources for Inuit youth.

As the countdown to Canada 150 continues, Qaqqaq wants Canadians to do some learning of their own.

“Canada as a whole is put on this glorious platform about how we’re such a great country and so diverse and so inclusive but when you look at Indigenous peoples and their communities and their histories and culture, how much do other people really know?”

Qaqqaq would like Canadians to understand Indigenous people: their communities, their history on the land, and the challenges they face.

“There [are] just so many stereotypes we live with. They just simply don’t know.”

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