‘I feel extremely isolated’: Q&A with Mumilaaq Qaqqaq the outgoing MP in Nunavut, Canada

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq in Canada’s House of Commons, in Ottawa, in May 2021. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The territory’s sole federal representative spoke with CBC News about why she won’t be seeking another term

The NDP’s Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, Nunavut’s sole MP, says she wants the person who replaces her to be a voice for Inuit in Canada.

Qaqqaq, who briefly withdrew from public life after a tour of housing conditions in the territory, said in May that she wouldn’t seek re-election.

She spoke with CBC News about why she won’t be seeking another term and what she hopes for from the next person in her role. Here’s a summary of that interview.

What made you decide not to run again?

“I think there were a number of contributing factors that came into that decision,” Qaqqaq said, adding she hadn’t intended to be a member of parliament until August of 2019.

Now that there’s a possibility another federal election could be held before the four-year term is up, she said it’s forced conversations about her next move.

“I felt like I had to tell people what my plans were, and then being able to really reflect and think about what it is and why I got into this position, and what it is ultimately I want [for] my life is not to run again. And so I decided not to,” Qaqqaq said.

“As always, I think it’s so important for me to continue to remain open and transparent with the individuals that I represent … but who knows, we can be continuing this term for another two weeks, another two months, the whole next two years. So it’s of course mostly a formality piece at this point for sure.”

Qaqqaq said when it comes to the potential of running, her goal and focus will always be set on what’s currently in front of her.

“In this position, that’s always been to represent Nunavummiut, to represent Inuit … to the best of my ability,” she said. “And that’s something that I have done, and plan on continuing to do, for sure.”

What kind of conversations were had with friends and family leading up to the decision not to run?

“It’s been an extremely, extremely isolating position,” Qaqqaq said.

“I feel — and I’m going to try not to cry during this — but I feel extremely isolated. I miss having a connection and a feeling of normalcy in friendships. I miss talking to people about things that don’t necessarily involve my work.”

She said for the last few months, she’s spent a lot of time alone, developing skills to create “healthy outlets and tools for myself.”

“But people think honestly that I’m really busy and that I don’t have time for them, or whatever excuse they want to make, and I’ve been putting calls out to my friends to say, can you start treating me like Mumilaaq the human being, and not only Mumilaaq the MP?” she said.

“This is probably the number one reason I’m not running again.… When you look at what I do in my social media from the outside, it seems like there’s a lot of connection and interaction, but it’s just in a social media way, not in the way that Mumilaaq as a human being wants or needs.”

She said lately, she mostly speaks with one friend and her parents.

“I’ve been calling it the COVID crazies, I think everybody is in a weird time,” she said. “But I find personally, I have just really not been enjoying holding this title as Member of Parliament lately.”

What kind of work are you and your office doing?

Qaqqaq said among the work her office is doing is pushing the federal government to meet the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.

“We need to make sure that these call to action are fulfilled,” Qaqqaq said. “They’ve had since 2016 to start, and they’ve been talking about it since 2019. Here we are in 2021 with no progress.”

She said they’ll be “keeping the pressure on” to keep the conversation going.

“There needs to be accountability. There needs to be change.”

Qaqqaq’s office will also be a presenting a bill on Indigenous languages this week, she said, among other items they’re working on.

“There’s still so so much work that I plan on on doing … throughout the rest of the term.”

How would you change Nunavut’s relationship with the federal government?

“I think that Nunavut and Inuit in general just need to speak more truth to power. I think we need to stop allowing the federal government to give the bare minimum,” she said.

“Don’t be thankful for getting less than what is needed. There’s nothing that I am personally seeing, in my experience, that signals that the federal institution, or the RCMP institution for that matter, want to create a better relationship with Inuit and with Indigenous people.… It’s a system that works because it works for itself. It doesn’t work for society as a whole.

“We have talked a lot about … the housing situation, the lack of affordability and the lack of access to clean water, but we haven’t talked about the why or the how, and there is such an immense amount of really pack-a-punch history in there.”

What are your hopes for the next person who’s elected to represent Nunavut at the federal level?

“I hope it’s someone that is outspoken, and not afraid to talk about the realities and the truth that we need to,” she said.

“I have a very safe space within the NDP, so I hope the next person that’s elected is with the party.”

Qaqqaq said she’s hoping the next person will also be willing to travel to the communities, as she did.

“I also hope that people hold that person to account,” she said. “I hope the next person shows up and shows Inuit that they matter.”

-Written based on an interview by Teresa Qiatsuq

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: ‘People need help’: Canadian MP gathering firsthand stories of housing crisis in Arctic territory, CBC News

Finland: Sami Parliament in Finland agrees more time needed for Truth and Reconciliation Commission preparation, Eye on the Arctic

GreenlandPolitical upheaval in Greenland — What does Inuit Ataqatigiit do now?, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Nornickel has changed positively, says Taimyr Indigenous group in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Int’l Inuit org voices solidarity with Indigenous Canadians after remains of 215 children found at former residential school, Eye on the Arctic

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