“People like me do not belong here in the federal institution”

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Indigenous Issues

I have never felt safe or protected in my position, especially within the House of Commons

OTTAWA – POLITICS – Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Nunavut.

She is not running for re-election. She says that she does not feel, as an Inuit and as an Indigenous person that she feels either welcome or safe in the House of Commons.

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq explained why in a speech to the House of Commons on June 16, 2021:

Every time I walk onto the House of Commons grounds and speak in these chambers, I am reminded every step of the way I do not belong here.

I have never felt safe or protected in my position, especially within the House of Commons, often having pep talks with myself in the elevator or taking a moment in the bathroom stall to maintain my composure. When I walk through these doors not only am I reminded of the clear colonial house on fire I am willingly walking into, I am already in survival mode.

Since being elected, I expect to be stopped by security at my workplace. I have had security jog after me down hallways, nearly put their hands on me and racially profile me as a member of Parliament. I know what to do in these situations. My life in Canada, and especially through this experience, has taught me many things. As a brown woman, I do not move too quickly or suddenly, do not raise my voice, do not make a scene, maintain eye contact and do not hide my hands.

Every Inuk has survival mode. We have to. Not two generations ago, survival mode meant endurance of extreme temperatures and finding food throughout the winter. Now survival mode means being able to see that warmth in shelter and affordability in livelihood, but being denied it at the hands of the federal government.

The federal institution needs to change its own policies and procedures to reflect reality instead of creating barriers for people like me. I should not be afraid of going into work. No one should be afraid of going into work. It is possible to create change. It can be started here in the House of Commons and reflected in Canada. There is a refusal and unwillingness for change, not an inability to accomplish it.

People like me do not belong here in the federal institution. I am a human being who wants to use this institution to help people, but the reality is that this institution and country have been created off the backs, trauma and displacement of indigenous peoples. Even if we are told we should run, we still face huge barriers. Young people have been told they are not experienced enough, not ready to lead. Women have been told to sit pretty and listen. Disabled individuals have been shown they are not even worth the conversation. Inuit kill themselves at the highest rate in the country. We are facing a suicide epidemic and this institution refuses to care.

During my time in this chamber, I have heard so many pretty words, like reconciliation, diversity and inclusion. I have been called courageous, brave and strong by people outside of my party. However, let me be honest, brutally honest. Nice words with no action hurt when they are uttered by those with power over the federal institution who refuse to take action. The legacy this institution continues to not only maintain but to build and fuel is nothing to take pride in. People in power have choices and consistently choose priorities that uphold systems of oppression, leaving babies sick in mouldy homes and parents missing their passed-on children because these powerful individuals do not think change is worth the money.

Recently I asked a minister what he would do in my shoes. If his riding had the highest rates of suicide, with the most homes in need of repair, if women and girls were going missing in his community and children were being taken into foster care without regard for their well-being, how would he feel? I asked if the minister would change his answer if I told him to keep waiting. He could not answer me. He said he would never even try to place himself in my shoes. That is exactly what the problem is. Inuit have been telling those with the power and ability to make change to try and survive in their shoes for one day, one week, one month. They could not.

Maybe it is impossible for ministers to understand what we go through every day, but I am urging them and telling them to listen to us, believe us and do something about it. When we tell them to act now, they need to act now. If they do understand, then shame on them, because if they do understand how much this hurts, they understand how deep it cuts. It would be easier for me to be told that I am wrong and that they disagree than to be told that I am right and I am courageous but there is no room in their budget for the basic human rights that so many others take for granted.

I do not belong here, but my presence, I hope, is starting to crack the foundations of this very federal institution that started colonizing Inuit barely 70 years ago. I realize that this is difficult for some members to hear, but it is the reality and the truth. This place was built on the oppression of indigenous peoples, people like my grandfather, who was born and raised on the land but was forcibly relocated to a settlement that was financed and built by the federal institution.

Our history is stained with blood. It is the blood of children, youth, adults and elders. It is time to face the scales of justice. On one side we have a mountain of suffering, and whenever the government gives us a grain of sand of support, it seems to think the trauma from our past has been rectified and that somehow it deserves a pat on the back. However, it will take a mountain of support to even begin the healing process. As long as these halls echo with empty promises instead of real action, I will not belong here.

Although I may not belong in this institution, I do belong in my party. The NDP has always been a party committed to uplifting the voices of all those, of all different backgrounds, who are ignored by the federal institution.

I would like to thank my leader, the member for Burnaby South, for listening to me and making me feel safe and comfortable to voice what I needed to. Members from other parties have come to me asking me to advocate for an issue their party refused to touch, but I never felt muzzled by the NDP. I could never join another party and I am a proud New Democrat.

I thank my colleagues from New Westminster—Burnaby, North Island—Powell River and especially Hamilton Centre for always having my back. Without my NDP colleagues I would not have such a great platform that is true in the want to do more, to do better and to do right.

I would also like to thank my number one supports, my mother and father, Pia and Jimmy, and my brother Lars, for everything from day one.

I give a huge shout-out to my staff. I could not have survived without then. With all the things that have come out of my office, everything that I am so proud of, I know that I could not have done this without them. I am so grateful for them.

Of course, ultimately, from the bottom of my heart, I thank Inuit and Nunavummiut who believe in me and support me. The encouraging messages have meant more than people will know. I would like to thank Pauktuutit for always standing up for Inuit women and girls like me and for speaking truth to power, even when it is inconvenient.

I will always fight for the human rights of indigenous peoples in Nunavut and across the country. I believe that we are living through a shift in this country and Canadians are starting to wake up to the reality. I am looking forward to a time when people like me can belong here, a time when we can be here. I hope another young person, Inuk person, woman or all three will follow in my footsteps and continue pushing this institution to support indigenous peoples in Canada.

I have shown the nation and the world that impossible is possible, that hope can grow where it is purposely put out and that if we work together and use our voices we can influence real change. I will always believe politics can look, feel and be different. It can, it has and it has started. We will keep it going, and we all must ensure that it does.