Name: Mumilaaq Qaqqaq
Job title: Member of Parliament for Nunavut
From: Baker Lake, Nunavut
Currently lives in: Iqaluit
Education: Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School
First job out of school: Children’s oral-health initiative coordinator
If you had asked Mumilaaq Qaqqaq three months ago if she would ever run to be a member of parliament, she probably would have said no. Up until May, the 26-year-old was working as a wellness program specialist in Nunavut’s Department of Health; she’d been there for a year and her work was focused on suicide prevention. It was an experience that, while trying, Qaqqaq says, helped her build skills in organizing, facilitating and having tough conversations within her community.
Then, in September, just over a month before the October 21 election and with no prior political experience or even a campaign manager at the time, Qaqqaq decided to run for public office. And, spoiler alert: She won.
The newly minted MP for Nunavut is the first New Democratic Party member to be elected in the region since 1980. As one of the youngest MPs in Canada, Qaqqaq provides a much-needed shake-up for the cabinet, with her thoughtful, Arctic-centric platform and intersectional identity standing out against other members. Qaqqaq, who is Inuit, has traditionally inspired face tattoos. “What I look like already is very different from what you’re used to seeing in politics,” she says. “And [I want] to make sure that [identity] stays with me.
“One of my biggest concerns when I decided to run was ‘I don’t want this position to change the foundation of who I am and what I believe in,’” she continues. “And in order to do that, I needed to do things in the way that I always have while also being able to work with other MPs.”
And that means changing what has become the status quo over the past few decades in Nunavut. “I want basic human rights for everybody in the territory,” says Qaqqaq. This means, among other things, eliminating boil-water advisories, lowering food and living costs and tackling the region’s housing issues. “How do you expect people to create opportunities or pursue opportunities when they don’t even have their basic human rights?” she asks.
The answer is, they can’t. Which is why, for Qaqqaq, success will only come if these basic needs are finally met—then she can move on to the other stuff. “If the conversation is changed in four years, where we’re not talking about basic human rights and we’re talking about other things, to me that looks like success.”
And, if her resolve over her win is any indication of what’s to come, it’s safe to say that, four years from now, we’ll be talking about something else.
“I worked so hard to get there and have been working just as hard as anyone else,” Qaqqaq says of her win and new role. “I’ve been doing it for a shorter amount of time, but that doesn’t disregard how hard I did work. I deserve to be there just as much as all 337 other MPs.”