Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is diving back into work, returning to the issue that led her to take a two-month leave of absence late last year — the Nunavut housing crisis.
“Could you imagine living in a home where your 11-year-old child has hung themselves and that’s where you have to live for the rest of your life,” asks the Nunavut MP, describing what she learned during a tour she took last year of homes in eight communities across the territory.
“Could you imagine living in a home where your husband was shot in the kitchen and you had to clean it up, and that’s where you lived for the rest of your life because there’s no other housing options?”
That three-week tour, which included a stop in her hometown of Baker Lake, left Qaqqaq with what she describes as feelings of anxiety, depression and extreme burnout.
She says she visited four of the communities by herself and four with a staff member, and often worked until 11:30 p.m.
After it was over, Qaqqaq says she spent time trying to wrap her head around how the federal government “has so severely screwed over Inuit.”
“They don’t see it, they don’t interact with it, but they keep saying they know it’s happening,” she said about the housing crisis.
She opened up about her experiences in a video statement on Jan. 25, explaining she took the time off to get the support she needed.
“Lots of people think if I can’t handle this intensity, then maybe I shouldn’t be a politician,” she said.
“If people saw what I saw in those three weeks, anyone with a heart would have taken time off.”
Qaqqaq described mold-infested homes with severe structural issues, as well as babies and children with skin irritations thought to be caused by mold.
“I could smell the mold before I was even in the house,” she said about one home she toured in the Kitikmeot region.
Qaqqaq says she believes addressing unsafe housing in the territory is a first step to tackling other issues.
“Everything that ties into quality of life and well-being ties into where you lay your head at night,” she said. “If we can’t start with that safe space, I don’t think we can start with anything else.”
About 37 percent of Nunavut’s population is living in homes that need major repairs, are not the right size, or are not affordable, according to the Nunavut government’s 2020 Status of Housing report, published in September.
In October, the Nunavut Housing Corporation announced it would spend $30.7 million on mold removal in homes across the territory over six years.
Qaqqaq’s office is producing its own report on the findings from her housing tour, which is nearly complete, according to Mathieu Boisvert, a spokesperson from the MP’s office.
It will be translated into Inuktitut before being released to the public, he said.
Qaqqaq said her report is intended to create awareness of the issue, because her role as a member of Parliament is to advocate for her constituents.
In general, she said she feels there is a misunderstanding about the decisions she has the power to make as an MP.
“I walk into people’s homes and there’s definitely a notion that I can leave and somehow they’re going to get a new unit next week, or it’s going to be fixed within the month,” she said.
“That’s not at all how it works,” she said. “I do not have the power to say yes or no to anything.”
As her work on the Nunavut housing crisis progresses, Qaqqaq also took a moment to contemplate her future in Parliament.
She says if circumstances were different, she probably would have pursued a life in the arts.
“I love dance, I love music, I love fashion, I love that kind of stuff,” Qaqqaq said.
“This is 100 percent who I’m meant to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. But if every Inuk had the right to self-determination, it is not what I would be.”
That said, she says she remains on the fence about whether she will run for re-election.
“It’s leaning a bit more towards yes now, but it’s still up in the air.”