Growing up in the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement in Alberta, politics was the furthest thing from NDP MP Blake Desjarlais’ mind. The only thing he cared about was “playing in the bush.”
Desjarlais, who was raised by his aunt, says his family didn’t have a lot of money but they had a wealth of language, land and kinship.
“Growing up, I felt pretty privileged to have the opportunity I did to hear the language, my mom’s first language, to go on those hunting trips, to go fishing, to pull a net, I think they’re one of the greatest times of my life,” says Desjarlais during the latest episode of Face to Face.
“I think that’s largely what motivated me to become part of politics, was to protect that way of life, to be part of the next generation and being able to retain that unique identity, that unique skill and those unique stories of our ancestors because they make us who we are. We’re nothing but the combination of our elder’s sacrifices.”
Desjarlais was elected in the September 2021 federal election in the riding of Edmonton Griesbach. He became the only elected Indigenous MP in Alberta and will be the first openly Two-Spirit MP to sit in the House of Commons.
Already, Desjarlais has been handed numerous duties, including being elected NDP caucus vice chair, deputy critic of 2SLGBTQI+ Rights, and deputy critic of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.
Desjarlais, 27, says he’s honoured to have his party’s confidence to take on such big roles and looks forward to bringing the perspective of someone from Alberta, who is Indigenous, and young.
Desjarlais says he’s willing to give the new Liberal cabinet ministers the benefit of the doubt but says there have been a lot of broken promises.
“You can’t, as a party, like the Liberals had, promise these large, grandiose things like ending the boil water advisories, to things like tackling housing in Indigenous communities, particularly in the north and not follow through with them,” says Desjarlais.
“I think, Justin Trudeau, especially after the incident on September 30th, missing the recognition of the importance of that day, really highlighted the gap between words and actions for the current government.”
One of the critic’s roles the new MP is really looking to tackle is diversity and inclusion.
“I faced a tremendous amount of racism and it hurts,” says Desjarlais. “It really stings a child when you’re that young and you’re in a learning environment to be told things like Métis people aren’t a part of Canadian history. I remember writing a report once, the question was tell us about Canadian history.
“And I wrote about Manitoba, about Saskatchewan and Alberta and I how the Métis people and the Cree people and we had those rebellions which were often called rebellions in a textbook, we call them resistances, acts of defending our rights, acts of defending our homes and that is the true history that curated our country and I remember this professor handing it back, saying Blake do it again. I’m not even going to mark this paper. Systemic racism is real and it touches every facet of ones experience whether you’re Indigenous or a person of colour.”
Heading into the 44th Parliament, addressing racism is top of mind for Desjarlais, who says “our elders deserve better, our kids deserve better, our people just deserve better. Racism has no place in Canada and I hope to play a role in making sure we can tackle it in a real way.”