Treating one another as equals is something Aliqa Illauq believes in deeply, and it’s a sense of morality that she hopes becomes commonplace.
“I was taught that we all breathe the same air,” she says. “I would like to see everybody go back to the basic principles that we have been born with and that’s to help each other — to have that responsibility, instead of tearing each other down because it’s killing people.”
Illauq spreads messages of kindness through her growing social media presence, often speaking in Inuktitut, which was her first language in Clyde River, where she spent her childhood.
“I grew up in a very Inuk home, if you want to call it that,” she says. “It was really important for the Elders and my family in general that our foundation was very Inuk-based.”
Her father is an accomplished hunter who was removed from the land and assimilated into the Eurocentric Canadian system.
Her mother is qallunaaq, but capable of understanding and speaking the Inuit language.
“For me to get to where I am today — who I am and how I look at the world and everything — it’s made up of my ancestors and everyone that I’ve crossed paths with,” she says.
She also conveys a strong political message in some of her Facebook and Instagram videos, offering insights into how established government practices could be reformed. The federal political structure is disconnected from the Inuit perspective of being rooted to the land, she says.
The “political” system that resonates with her is one where people are in harmony with each other and everything around them, as opposed to the “greedy” and “unrealistic” corporate-driven approach.
“I think naturally I am very political. I will do whatever it takes to ensure my children have a future and everyone else’s children have a future,” says Illauq, a mother of three, ages six to 13.
“What we are doing right now to the resources and the crises that we have put ourselves in as human beings, our children are going to pay for it … the road that we are on, we won’t be able to move back from it. We can’t put the oil back in the ground. We can’t take the iron ore dust out of the waters that’s affecting all of the animals. So every decision we make, it is very political.”
Former Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq was vocal about life on Parliament Hill being an inhospitable environment because, as Illauq puts it, Ottawa doesn’t value an Inuk perspective or Inuk lived experience.
“The political system has no Indigenous principles in it,” Illauq says.
She contended for the leadership of the Nunavut NDP during the summer of 2021, a race that Lori Idlout won. While finding flaws with all of the longstanding Canadian political parties, Illauq found the New Democrats most aligned with her philosophy of putting humanity first.
“Politics is a crazy, ugly game … (with) an illusion of hierarchy,” she says of her first foray into federal political arena while in her 30s. “At the same time, I understand our realities today and the political system we are in — it’s there.”
From dropout to instructor
An instructor with the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Inuit post-secondary program in Ottawa, Illauq has been teaching Inuktitut and contemporary issues since January 2021. She says she finds it “magical” to watch students grow and find their voice as they grasp Inuit history, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and how it’s all intertwined with today’s world.
“It’s absolutely very fulfilling,” she says, noting that the program has produced many Inuit leaders, including Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok and ministers Pamela Gross and Adam Lightstone. “These students are so bright, they’re so capable … I do get strength from them.”
However, she also pointed out that some of the youth have overcome difficult circumstances to get there, while others are unable to overcome numerous disadvantages.
“We need to change something here. There’s too many of our relations that have committed suicide. There’s too many children that have really horrific health issues because of the condition of the home. There’s so much PTSD,” she says.
As for her own education, Illauq was a high school dropout, struggling with “Western academics.” But, years later, she enrolled at Carleton University in Ottawa as a mature student. It wasn’t a miraculous turnaround. She had difficulty doing research and writing essays and she failed her first legal studies exam “miserably.”
“But I learned,” she recalls. “As a result, I ended up doing a combined honours in law and human rights and social justice with a minor in Indigenous studies, got a bunch of scholarships and just learned along the way.”
As International Women’s Day is marked on March 8, Illauq didn’t name a specific female figure who she admires, when asked. She says she possesses just as much esteem for a person begging for money on the street as anyone else.
“Some of them are lucky just to get a nice hot meal a day, and they’re still able to smile and show compassion. That’s an inspiration. It amazes me,” she says. “At the end of the day, most of them will show more love than the corporate CEO and they’ll be more trustworthy. That’s one of my biggest inspirations: watching people rise above their hurt and just having the opportunity to listen to them.”