Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq on leaving politics, and why she feels no pride in Canada
Qaqqaq, 27, went out swinging this week with a powerful farewell speech in the House of Commons
Mumilaaq Qaqqaq says she wants to be selfish for the first time in her life, and finally pursue her own happiness.
The 27-year-old Nunavut NDP MP, who has been outspoken on issues like the Nunavut housing crisis and access to clean drinking water on First Nations, recently announced she would not be seeking re-election, saying the job has left her feeling frustrated and alone.
In her powerful farewell speech, she excoriated Canada as a country "stained with blood" that was "created off the backs, trauma and displacement of Indigenous People."
Qaqqaq spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about her speech and why she's leaving politics behind. Here is part of their conversation.
You said in part of this speech that … every time you walk into the House of Commons, you're reminded that you don't belong there. What is the experience you have in that building, in that institution?
I always expect I'm going to be stopped by security.
I remember one [time] in particular where I was going to the West Block. And the doors that MPs walk in, you walk by a booth and then you pass by a set of doors and there's another security guard on the other side of the booth. So I was walking to the House one time and to Question Period, and I saw the security guy in the booth, and he gave me a nod, so I gave him a nod. And I was like: Great. Like, I make eye contact with him. Great. Like, I'm good. He knows who I am and I don't have to worry.
Usually I always have my headphones in because I'm trying to pump myself up with Snotty Nose Rez Kids and get myself mentally prepared to speak in the House of Commons ... and I'm listening to music, but I can hear and feel heavy steps and vibration, as if somebody's jogging after me. And I knew it was happening and that there was a second security guard.
So [I] slowly take out my headphones, slowly turn, make sure that I'm not moving too fast, I'm not going to make a scene. And he says, like, "Do you have ID? You need to be basically screened to be in here." And I'm fumbling through my purse looking for my MP card and I don't have it on me that day. And I was like, "Oh my goodness." And he eventually realized and I think felt a bit silly. But how intimidating is that, to have these big, heavy footsteps behind me?
Were you ever able to get anything that you wanted on the agenda?
I got to speak from a place of truth and reality. I got to say exactly what needed to be said and how it needed to. And for me, that's a huge accomplishment, even though it shouldn't be.
I would not feel comfortable in any other space except with the New Democrat Party. I have never felt the need to tone down or to not say something, and I have never been put in a position where I've been made to muzzle myself in any way, shape or form. So I think that there has been room where people are realizing that there can be people like me, where there can be people that take their job seriously and their responsibility, their transparency … [to] who they serve, which is who elected them and their constituents.
If anything, I've been able to show that impossible is possible, that there's a chance for hope where it's purposely put out. And I think that regardless of what happens next, there has at least been shown that we don't need to hide those truths. We don't need to be thankful for less than the bare minimum, and that we can find pride in our identity and who we are again, and that we're moving towards healing.
And as an Indigenous person, as an Inuk, as a woman here in Canada, I don't see any pride in being a Canadian.- Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut MP
[You said] the people who [are] opposed to your ideas, who are opposed to what you're trying to tell the House of Commons, that they are less a problem for you than those who say, "Yes, we understand exactly. We see exactly what you're saying, but we're not going to do anything about it."
To say this institution upholds and has done a lot of things to Indigenous people is one thing. But to be willingly putting yourself [and] your constituents in a position where we know and see you're not going to get truth, you're not going to get what's best for Canada and those that need help the most overall, and to be told all the time as an Indigenous person, as someone that looks like me, that they know there's a problem, they know there needs to be more done, is incredibly frustrating.
I have point blank said to ministers, "Walk in our shoes. Attempt it. Try it. Try and put yourself in the position you force us into." And they refuse to. They know they can't. They know they couldn't handle it. So why would you expect any other human being to live in conditions you say you wouldn't even imagine? Like, that is so wrong and shameful and gut wrenching for the people that need help.
I don't understand how anyone can see pride in that. And as an Indigenous person, as an Inuk, as a woman here in Canada, I don't see any pride in being a Canadian. I don't see any pride in how Canada allows a federal institution to treat Indigenous Peoples and continue to leave them in the states that we see.
The thing is, you do belong in the House of Commons. Your voice is essential. And without it, it will be sadly missing. Why not stay and be that voice for Inuit?
Because I have too much of my life to live. I think that people have this notion that we stop learning, we stop growing at a certain time. And I know I'm only 27, but I feel like I'm running out of time, and there's still so much for me to do and learn and experience. And it's not in this space.
Why should I be miserable? I've been more and more transparent about this. I'm really lonely. This is a really isolating job. I have found myself in a space where it's really even hard to have, like, day-to-day conversations. Like, I'm just trying to talk with friends about wall colours, about [how] I have some betta fish. Like, I'm just trying to have normal conversations, and I can't find that. I feel like such an alien in this position.
I don't want to be viewed as Mumilaaq the courageous MP. I want to be Mumilaaq the person that wants and has human needs, which are genuine connection and interaction. And you can't find that very much in politics.
And as Mumilaaq, I'm not happy anymore, and I haven't been for a long time. This is the first time in my life I'm going to be doing something completely selfish. I have been so selfless for the last 27 years, and it's time for me to find what I truly want and where my true passions are.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.