Canadian MP Wants An Investigation Into Crimes Against Indigenous People
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The U.S. isn't the only country grappling with centuries of racial subjugation and violence. Canada is facing up to its own history of brutality after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at former residential schools. That's where Indigenous children were taken for more than a century in a government-run effort to erase their culture.
MUMILAAQ QAQQAQ: These are hundreds of brown kids. These are hundreds of Indigenous kids. These are only a handful of schools searched, so we're just barely scratching the surface.
FADEL: That's Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who represents the territory of Nunavut in Canada's Parliament. She is Inuk, and about 85% of the population in Nunavut identify as Inuit. She's calling for a special prosecutor to investigate crimes committed against Indigenous people, including what happened at those schools. I asked her if she found the discovery of those graves shocking.
QAQQAQ: I think primarily white Canadians...
QAQQAQ: ...Have found it shocking because this is something that a lot of Indigenous peoples, we know, but also that a lot of individuals that are racialized, that identify with minority groups, face similar systems of oppression and can oftentimes relate, whether they're from Canada or not, because they've experienced, some way, shape or form, oppression or colonization. So I think it's a shock to a lot of white individuals, not to racialized individuals.
QAQQAQ: When we're able to, though, have these kinds of things come to light, it pushes that conversation and forces that awareness of that darkness of the history.
FADEL: Now, you recently decided not to run for another term in Parliament, and you gave a really devastating speech, including saying you didn't feel safe. Can you talk about why you made the decision?
QAQQAQ: Yeah. And, again, I think that was a devastating speech to a certain kind of people, but a relatable speech to a lot of Indigenous people. These types of things happen every single day for Indigenous people, for visually racialized people, where it's as simple as you walk into a store and you're being followed around. You are expected to provide payment where other people may not be expected to provide payment upfront. It's what I have experienced throughout my entire life and didn't even kind of start to faze me after a few months of just learning to keep my badge at the top of my purse or to keep my MP pin visible or...
FADEL: Because you were being profiled.
QAQQAQ: Because I was always being profiled - you know, I never kind of sidestep the security. Whenever I walk into a building, I walk onto security straight on so that they can see my face, they can see my hands. And I'm not making any kind...
QAQQAQ: ...Of weird movements. And I always nod and say hi. And it's been nice because I was on the Hill the other day, and everybody said hi to me. So I guess that people have gotten a talking-to. And that's the frustrating part, though, that...
QAQQAQ: ...These kinds of things happen on this level and can be changed, clearly. They know this is something that is continuously happening, so it's just frustrating when there is clearly ability to do something, and it really takes some public fuss to make change about it.
FADEL: Are you worried that not having a voice like yours pushing for accountability and prosecutions in some cases in Parliament will hamper efforts to keep this at the forefront?
QAQQAQ: It was an opportunity I took at the time. And I'm doing the best of - to my ability, and I will complete my term. It's just not something that I personally want to pursue again. But imagine if that's what you want to do and if that's really what you understand you're getting into, then the things you could do would be phenomenal because it took me a little (laughter) while to really grasp my work and how I wanted to work and also, you know, just being a member of Parliament, being a politician. If you're going into something with intention, that's a lot more helpful. Going into it with open eyes is a lot more helpful. So I hope that just me sharing my experience and being so open about it, people have a clearer idea. And I think we're actually going to see a wave, a really big wave of Indigenous voices come more to a national forefront.
FADEL: When you talk about change, needed change and accountability, what needs to happen? What do people in power need to focus on here to make life better for Indigenous people in Canada?
QAQQAQ: I think people in power are continuously going to do what they want unless the public puts pressure on them to do otherwise. That's what we've seen for the past 70 years when it comes to that relationship with the Inuit. When I campaigned, we didn't see the Liberal government in Nunavut very much until about two months before the writ drop. They were in the territory, I believe, seven times, making all different kinds of announcements and apologies. And it was like, well, where have you been for the past four years? We could have used you at the beginning of your term, not at the end of it. So there's a bunch of things I could wish for, but ultimately, what I wish for now is the public to help me put pressure on the federal government.
FADEL: When it comes to the future of your people, what are you optimistic about?
QAQQAQ: Them - I mean, it's so - it's phenomenal to think about. There are so many Inuit that have been through so much and have yet accomplished so much after that and have been able to work in a world that they weren't raised in and probably didn't make much sense but still be able to navigate it regardless of all the oppression and all of the violence that has happened as a result of the federal institution is something that makes me so proud to be who I am and where I come from. And I think, again, me being here and having this voice, I hope, empowers that and empowers Inuit to realize that they can use their voice however they want as well. So I think of all the great things yet to come.
FADEL: Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, thank you for taking the time.
QAQQAQ: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS CHILD")
SUSAN AGLUKARK: (Singing) A ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya (ph)...
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.