Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is an exceptional young Indigenous leader and advocate for Inuit. She is the current Member of Parliament (MP) for Nunavut. Born in Baker Lake, she now lives in Iqaluit. Mumilaaq was elected in 2019, when she was only 25 years old. Prior to that, she rose to acclaim in 2017 when she gave a powerful and emotional speech about the Indigenous suicide crisis, as a representative of Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons.
Mumilaaq’s path to the halls of power was not straight, and it took her all the way across the country. After finishing high school, she started programmes at three different colleges; first, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, then in Peterborough, Ontario, and finally at Algonquin in Ottawa. However, she never completed any of these degrees. “So technically, I just have my grade 12!”
“I took sport and leisure management, and now I’m a Member of Parliament. I don’t know how much farther away you can get,” she laughs. These educational stops and starts helped Mumilaaq keep an open mind when considering her future. “You might not pick the career you end up with. And that’s fine. That’s perfectly fine. I’m 26, I’m an MP, and I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. Career choices can change. You might think you’re interested in something, and maybe you find that you’re not totally.”
Mumilaaq wants youth, and even adults, to know they have the power to make a change in their lives. “We put way too much pressure on our youth, and on younger adults, to figure things out so quickly. It’s fine if you don’t. Perfectly fine. I still haven’t, and I think I’m doing pretty okay.”
Despite her outward confidence and strength, Mumilaaq still has moments of doubt. “There are hard days where I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing,” she admits. “Quite often in our lives we are our biggest barrier, our biggest, worst critic.” Though Mumilaaq is often lauded for being an inspirational role model, she sometimes struggles against her inner voice. “I go and work 14 hours in a day and I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough.” She has to remind herself of her strengths, and speak kindly to herself. “[I have] this weird inner dialogue that says, ‘No, you belong here, and you’re meant to be here.’”
When she sits in the House of Commons, Mumilaaq is too often confronted with ‘not belonging.’ “I get stopped by security when I’m on Parliament Hill,” she says. “I’m not a bald white man, so I get stopped a lot. I definitely have really hard days where it’s like, maybe I’m not supposed to be here. Maybe I’m not supposed to be a part of whatever the system.”
Of course, Mumilaaq knows this is not the case; she not only belongs, people like her are essential to bettering our system of government.
“So many of these systems in place are not built for Indigenous people, are not built for racialized individuals, are not built for women. So I spend a lot of my time [reminding myself], ‘I belong here. I belong here. I belong here’. I know my truth. I know my history. I know the truths and history for my constituents.”
Mumilaaq has always had a strong voice, making her an excellent advocate for Inuit. “I think that as Inuit, we’ve done our time of taking a back seat and listening; it’s time for us to have a voice in things that directly impact us… It is time that we see more voices that look and speak like mine, especially at those huge decision-making tables.”
However, if she had one piece of advice for her younger self, Mumilaaq would suggest listening more, speaking less. “Sometimes when I look back, I wish I could just close my own mouth and sit myself down, and say, ‘Just soak it in and listen.’ I think we all go through that. It’s confusing growing up.”
As a child, Mumilaaq always wanted to be older and make her own decisions. “Now I’m an adult, and I’m like, ‘Where’s my mom? I want my parents! Someone make decisions for me, please!’ But that’s not how it works.”
Mumilaaq treasures the love, guidance, and support her parents provided her. “They’ve moved mountains for me and my brother. I feel really lucky.” And she advises young people who have a supportive family to “really enjoy the time that you have with your family... I wish I really invested more energy and positivity into those relations when I was at that age, but we’re working on it now. Life is all about learning.”
As an advocate and as a politician, Mumilaaq is paving the way for Indigenous youth to be heard. “The thing that for years and continues to frustrate me is that in society and in the ‘adult world’ or whatever you want to call it, is that we don’t involve youth as much as we should, as much as we could. [Young people] want responsibility. We want to be included. We want to contribute and be part of our future. And we have every right to do so.
“I think it is more than okay to push for a seat at the table. It’s more than okay to speak up. And the worst thing that we can do for ourselves is choose silence over choosing opportunities that allow us as individuals, us as families, us as community members to have that potential option to actually be a part of the decision making, to influence what the future is going to look like for us.
“Because it’s our future. We’re going to be here much longer than a lot of other people. And I think we’re starting to see a movement where we’re seeing youth that are much more realistic, analytical, have better and greener and more inclusive solutions. And that we’re starting to see a shift in mindset about who can do certain jobs and who can’t. And I would just say if you want to be there and if you want a spot at the table, go for it, fight for it! And if that’s truly what you want, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.”
Special thanks to Jessica Dee Humphreys for authoring this blog post.
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