OTTAWA — Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq has returned to work after “extreme burnout, depression, and anxiety” prompted her to take a two-month leave of absence.
The NDP MP’s leave was announced on Oct. 23. In a statement at the time, Qaqqaq said her doctor recommended an eight-week break to address unspecified health issues.
Qaqqaq clarified in a video Monday that she has been off work “due to extreme burnout, depression, and anxiety.”
She said witnessing “so much turmoil and lack of justice” during a three-week housing tour that took her across Nunavut in August left her “heart hurting” and “soul heavy.”
“I couldn’t begin to fathom how many Inuit were clearly struggling, so obviously struggling and it seemed like the rest of the country was relatively OK with this — including the prime minister.”
Qaqqaq previously told HuffPost Canada, before her leave of absence, the housing tour allowed her to see firsthand the conditions in which many Inuit live.
Those conditions include crowded multigenerational homes, many of which were mold infested, she said, which give Inuit limited options for COVID-19-related self-isolation.
There are systemic problems that pre-existed the pandemic, Qaqqaq said in her video.
“In the last 60 plus years, the Liberal and Conservative federal governments have failed Inuit horribly, resulting in death,” she said. “Inuit continue to die due to a lack of basic human rights, due to a lack of safe spaces and affordable food.”
Qaqqaq said a “repeating colonial system” imposed on Nunavut and Inuit continues to perpetuate problems in the territory, such as disproportionately high rates of suicide and violent crime.
The suicide rate among Nunavut Inuit is approximately nine times higher compared to the non-Indigenous population, according to Statistics Canada.
Nunavut’s representative for children and youth published a report in 2019 that identified the loss of traditional knowledge and practices as concerns raised by many Nunavummiut related to mental health.
“The erosion of the Inuit way of life has been considered a contributing factor to a number of social issues, including family breakdown, family violence, child abuse, and addictions,” the report read.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported crimes in Nunavut was nearly eight times the national average in 2019.
Qaqqaq said she is focused on building staff capacity in her office the next few weeks before MPs virtually, and some physically, return to Ottawa.
The House of Commons is scheduled to resume sitting on Jan. 25.