On Tuesday, members of parliament who will not be seeking re-election in the next campaign—chattering-class money is currently on late summer or early fall in terms of timing—had a chance to make farewell remarks in the hybrid House of Commons.
Amid the usual sincere but banal expressions of hope and thanks, Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq offered a remarkable and searing counterpoint. With an eloquent and quiet fury, she painted a portrait of nearly two years spent in the House of Commons being shown that she did not belong and that no meaningful change was on offer for the people she represents, even as she was congratulated for her bravery in existing.
Here are her remarks in their entirety:
Mr. Speaker, every time I walk on to House of Common grounds, speak in these chambers, I’m reminded every step of the way I don’t 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’ve had security jog after me down hallways, nearly put their hands on me and racial 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, do not move too quickly or suddenly. Do not raise your voice. Do not make a scene, maintain eye contact and don’t hide your 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 shouldn’t 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 the refusal and unwillingness for change, not inability to accomplish it. People like me don’t belong here in the federal institution. I’m a human being who wants to use this institution to help people.
But the reality is that this institution, and the country, has been created off the backs, trauma and displacement of Indigenous people. Even if we’re told we should run, we still face huge barriers. Young people have been told they’re not experienced enough, not ready to lead. Women have been told to sit pretty and listen, disabled individuals have been shown they aren’t even worth the conversations, and 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. But 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. There is nothing—nothing—to take pride in in the legacy this institution continues to not only maintain, but to build and fuel. People in power have choices, and they consistently choose priorities that uphold systems of oppression, leaving babies sick in moldy homes, parents missing their passed-on children, because these powerful individuals don’t 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 the foster care system 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. And he couldn’t answer me. He said he would never even try to place himself in my shoes.
But that’s exactly what the problem is. Inuit have been telling those with power and ability to make change to try and survive in their shoes for one day, one week, one month; they couldn’t. Maybe it is impossible for ministers to understand what we go through every day, but I am urging you—telling you—to listen, believe us and do something about it. When we tell you to act now, you need to act now. And if you understand, then shame on you. Because if you understand how much this hurts, you understand how deep it cuts. It would be easier for me to be told that I am wrong and that you disagree, than to be told I am right and I am courageous, but there is no room in your budget for basic, basic human rights that so many others take for granted.
You see, Mr. Speaker, I don’t 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 realized that this is difficult for some members to hear. But it’s the reality and the truth. This place was built on the oppression of Indigenous peoples. People like my grandfather, who were born and raised on the land, but forcibly relocated into settlement that was financed and built by the federal institution.
Our history is stained with blood—children, youth, adults’ and elders’ blood. It’s time to face the scale of justice. On one side, we have a mountain of suffering, and whenever the government gives us a grain of sand of support, they seem to think that trauma from our past has been rectified, that somehow they deserve a pat on the back. But 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 voices, of all those of all different backgrounds, often ignored by the federal institution. I’d 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 need to. While members from other parties have come to me, asking me to advocate for an issue their party’s focuses don’t touch, I never felt muzzled by the NDP. I could never join another party and I am a proud New Democrat.
Thank you to my colleagues. Thank you to members from Westminster Burnaby, North Island-Powell River, and especially Hamilton Centre, for always having my back. Without my NDP colleagues, I wouldn’t have such a great platform that is true in the want to do more, to do better. And to do right.
I’d also like to thank, of course, my number one supports, my mother and father Pia and Jimmy, and my brother Lars for everything from day one. A huge, huge shout out to my staff—I could not have survived without you guys. All the things that come out of my office, everything I’m so proud of, I know I couldn’t have done it with(out) you. I’m so grateful for you.
Of course, ultimately, thank you from the bottom of my heart to Inuit and Nunavummiut who believe in me and support me. The encouraging messages have meant more to me than people will ever know. I’d like to thank Pauktuutit for always standing up for Inuit women and girls like me, and speaking truth to power, even when it’s inconvenient.
I will always fight for human rights of Indigenous peoples in Nunavut and across the country. I believe that we are living through a shift in this country where Canadians are starting to wake up to the reality. I’m looking forward to a time where people like me could belong here. A time we can be here. I hope another young or Inuuk or 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’s 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, it’s started. We will keep it going. We must all ensure it does.