Cree voters will see a familiar name on their ballots in the provincial election this October. Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash announced May 29 her intention to run as a Québec solidaire candidate in the Ungava riding.
“I was minding my own business in December when some people I respect in Cree and Inuit communities strongly suggested I run,” recalled Labrecque-Saganash. “After I got a message from the co-leader of Québec solidaire, it was looking like the stars are aligned. If my Nation thinks I would be an asset to self-determination by sitting in [the National Assembly], I’m willing to try.”
Labrecque-Saganash has known party co-leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois since working together on the “Faut qu’on se parle” (We Need to Talk) tour in 2016, which stimulated public debate around issues like diversity and inclusion. She’s also earned the respect of co-leader Manon Massé, who worked to develop relationships with Indigenous communities.
“We’re welcoming a candidate of whom we are particularly proud,” said Massé. “Maïtée is a woman of her word, a woman of conviction, and she is a model of social involvement.”
Labrecque-Saganash turned down previous invitations from political parties because of her familiarity with the job’s challenges. Her father is former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, who represented the federal Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou riding from 2011 to 2019.
“It’s not an easy adventure for anyone, let alone for a young Indigenous woman like her,” tweeted Saganash. “But I know her courage and her passion for social justice; I wish her much strength and love.”
Before becoming a columnist for the Nation in 2018, Labrecque-Saganash wrote weekly columns about Indigenous issues in Métro, a free Montreal daily newspaper, and was frequently invited to appear on television talk shows and to speak at conferences.
Her campaign has mobilized more than 40 volunteers in non-Native communities. Another key to winning the riding is her extensive network in Nunavik, where people are excited about her candidacy.
“The Arctic is one of my favourite places and I’m happy I’ll get to advocate for people there,” she said. “The president of Makivik said we would have endorsed any Indigenous person from the region but knowing that you know Inuit communities and customs so well makes me really happy.”
While she says Québec solidaire’s platform isn’t perfect, Labrecque-Saganash believes it’s the only party pushing a progressive agenda. With two other Indigenous candidates, Benjamin Gingras in Abitibi-Est and Michaël Ottereyes in Roberval, the party is taking steps to introduce diverse perspectives to the National Assembly.
“I know I’m not going to be backbenched if I disagree with them,” Labrecque-Saganash told the Nation. “I’ve done it many times before and my critiques are always well received. I hesitated for months before this decision, but the political climate right now is so concerning.”
She felt compelled to oppose a Coalition avenir Québec government that refuses to acknowledge systemic racism and minimizes threats posed by an emboldened far-right. As someone whose Facebook page’s cover declares “capitalism is the virus”, Labrecque-Saganash believes rethinking provincial social services is urgent, particularly in northern communities.
“The quality of life is quite incredible up North, but if you can’t meet your basic needs and access decent public services then you can’t really thrive,” asserted Labrecque-Saganash. “The goal is to bring better services to have a more diverse economy so youth could feel comfortable living up North.”
Since moving back to Waswanipi a few years ago to work with the Cree Health Board, Labrecque-Saganash has witnessed frequent ruptures in healthcare services, including the temporary closure of Nunavik’s regional hospital. While the Cree Nation offers retention bonuses and housing to attract workers, many people living in the communities lack these same opportunities.
“It’s costing our Nation a lot of money trying to fill that gap that Quebec is not addressing,” Labrecque-Saganash said. “I understand we need housing for nurses, doctors and teachers for communities to function. But at the same time, a Cree person comes back to their community, and they don’t have housing.”
Recent strikes by Cree School Board workers protested inequalities in working and living conditions between their Indigenous and non-Indigenous members. Labrecque-Saganash has personally experienced the challenges of securing housing and noted that rising prices are making it even harder to make ends meet.
“You have teachers on your street with beautiful houses while yours is full of mould,” she commented. “Without withholding resources to outsiders, we need to make sure we do the same for young people, especially the ones who come back after graduating. Insecure housing doesn’t make a Nation that’s creative and thriving – everyone’s busy on autopilot trying to survive.”
At her core is the fight for social justice.
“I’m tired of begging for my human rights,” said Labrecque-Saganash. “I want to live in dignity and explore my other passions but the only thing I can do is revolt. While my friends are having kids, I’m worried how the world is going to be in 30 years – why have a child in this burning world?”
Her father and aunts survived residential school – but not her uncle. She feels that leveraging her inherited knowledge and strength is her way of honouring them. While she understands that many Cree people have never felt respected by the country’s political structures, she hopes to gain their support on voting day.
“I hope I can rally my people behind me because if I win it’s a win for all of us,” Labrecque-Saganash insisted. “I enter this long journey with a lot of conviction and respect for my people. After all, I’ll still be living in Waswanipi – I don’t want to stray from that too much because my community is what brings me joy.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter