Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is seen in an undated handout photo. (Photo The Canadian Press/HO NDP)

Focus on issues rather than age and gender, says new Nunavut MP

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq victory as MP was hailed in her hometown of Baker Lake with a parade and fireworks

Pro tip: don’t ask Mumilaaq Qaqqaq what it feels like to be a young woman entering the House of Commons.

This is her first foray into federal politics but the new NDP member of Parliament for the vast northern riding of Nunavut has already developed a strong voice and has taken issue with way some have been focusing on her age — 25 — relative inexperience and gender, rather than the issues she’s heading to Ottawa to champion.

“Are we asking male representatives over 30 about their age and their experience and how it feels to be a man walking into Parliament? I doubt it. I haven’t seen anything of the sort,” she said in a telephone interview from Iqaluit.

“We normalize the idea of what we think a politician should look like, and in reality a politician can look like anything. And so the only way that’s going to become normalized is if somebody like me starts calling it out.”

Qaqqaq won her seat by nearly 1,000 votes over Liberal candidate Megan Pizzo Lyall in the Oct. 21 vote and has been caught in a whirlwind ever since, dealing with a long list of media requests while also trying to learn the ins and outs of being an MP, hiring staff and looking a place to stay in the capital.

Her victory was hailed in her hometown of Baker Lake with a parade and fireworks.

Qaqqaq describes her life since then as a “crazy transition” from campaigning into public office with a lot to absorb. The reality of her new role hasn’t truly sunk in yet, she admits.

“I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen, or if it’s going to be just a gradual step-by-step getting into the role. Maybe it will never really hit me.”

When asked about the issues she hopes to bring to the House of Commons on behalf of her constituents, Qaqqaq became wistful. She says they’re simply issues of basic human rights that her territory has been struggling with for years.

“Over my term, it will be about focusing on increasing housing, tackling the mould crisis, lowering living costs and eliminating boil-water advisories in all of our communities,” she said.

“Hopefully by the time my term is up we can be discussing other issues and not be talking about basic human rights … then we can move on to other things, like increasing child care and education opportunities.”

Despite her no-nonsense tone in public speeches and interviews, Qaqqaq describes herself as a “very silly and goofy person” who enjoys posting to social-media sites like Instagram and Snapchat.

“I’ve gotten a couple of messages about where I’ve been seen or what I’ve been doing, and people are like, ‘You should be a little bit more quiet about those kinds of things because of who you are and the position that you’re in.’ “

But aside from a small adjustment in what she might post online, Qaqqaq says she has no plans to change anything about herself or the way she communicates now that she’s an elected member of Parliament, suggesting instead that others might have to shift their expectations.

She intends to be outspoken about issues facing northern Canadians, describing this as her way of being open and transparent about the realities people in Canada’s territories face.

“I think during my time it’s going to be a lot of raising awareness and educating other people, because realistically not everybody knows that much about the North and what our realities look like up here,” she said.

“In order for me to do my job effectively, in order for me to make any kind of change, I’ve got to be transparent about how we talk about things and how we discuss challenges and issues that all Canadians face and, in particular … the issues that come up when we’re talking about the North.”

There are other things about herself she says she’s also reluctant to change, even small things. For example, she dislikes wearing shoes and usually sits with her legs crossed.

During a recent visit to Ottawa for an orientation, Qaqqaq says she found herself slipping her shoes back on and keeping both feet on the ground.

“At one point I was like, ‘Well that’s just not what I’m used to so I’m just going to do what I would normally do.’ “

The Nunavummiut and Inuit have often had to accommodate to “a southern way of thinking and a southern way of doing things,” she says, but she hopes Canadians will be willing to open their minds to the different ways of life that people from northern communities experience.

She is also proud to be what she believes is the first member of Parliament with traditional face tattoos.

“It’s an opportunity to reclaim who I am as an Inuk, as an Indigenous woman. They were made to be very shameful and taboo, and now it’s not,” she says.

“To be somebody that has face tattoos sitting in Parliament — it’s important for individuals for people of all different ethnicities and all different backgrounds to see themselves represented in all different kinds of things, in politics, in films, in music, in the RCMP, all different kinds of positions.

“In order for that to start happening, we need to start educating other people and raising awareness of these kinds of things.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The importance of staying active during self isolation

Maintaining an exercise regime is critical to mental health during stressful times

Elk Valley holds on to hope while pandemic ensues

Weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, communities in the Elk Valley continue to find ways to spread joy

B.C. firefighters only responding to most life-threatening calls during COVID-19 pandemic

The directive comes after province spoke with paramedics, fire services, according to top doctor

‘An extra $220 every 90 days’: B.C. patients pay more dispensing fees due to prescription limits

Kelowna woman says it’s outrageous to charge for refills every 30 days

Hosmer woman walks to Fernie, celebrates cancer remission

Every year for the past 20 years, Sandy Lightfoot and her husband Fred walk from Hosmer to Fernie

‘Better days will return’: Queen Elizabeth delivers message amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Queen said crisis reminds her of her first address during World War II in 1940

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

Canadian cadets to mark 103rd anniversary of Vimy Ridge April 9 virtually

Idea of Captain Billie Sheridan in Williams Lake, B.C. who wondered what to do in times of COVID-19

B.C. VIEWS: Pandemic shows need for adequate care home staffing

Seniors in B.C. care homes face challenging times

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

Most Read