OTTAWA — For Blake DesJarlis, becoming an MP was not something he thought he would pursue. But now, after joining the NDP ahead of the 2021 federal election, he has made history as Canada’s first openly two-spirited member of parliament.
The 27-year-old won his ride to Edmonton Grisback, Alta. With 40.5 percent of the vote, he defeated Conservative incumbent Kerry Diotte after a tight race for the finish line. Now, he’s got high hopes and aspirations for what he can bring to Ottawa as a young Metis man.
“I want to make an impression,” he said in a recent interview with Granthshala.ca.
Desjarlais is one of 50 rookie lawmakers elected in the 2021 federal election. Granthshala.ca is creating a five-to-one profile from each party with a seat in the Commons in the lead up to the day of the first sitting of the 44th Parliament.
Fluent in Cree, Desjarlais grew up in the fishing Lake Metis settlement in Alberta, one of the remaining eight Metis settlements in Canada.
He lived there with his Aunt Grace, who adopted Blake, after his biological mother, Brenda—a survivor of ’60s Scoop—surrendered him while supporting herself as a sex worker in Edmonton. .
“He saved my life,” Desjarlais said.
He went back to Edmonton to study architecture at McEwan University after high school. While there, Desjarlais said he faced racism and discrimination for who he was.
This was a decade ago, he said.
“People weren’t talking about residential schools like they are today. They weren’t talking about some issues like systemic racism that are so prevalent in our experience in this world,” he said.
So he left, then enrolled at the University of Victoria, where he completed his studies, focusing on indigenous and political affairs. In 2016, he was appointed national director for the Metis Settlements General Council, a role in which he had engaged in negotiations with the federal government over the past five years.
“I never really thought I would see myself running into federal politics,” he said, adding that he had probably considered running for an indigenous leadership role, because in previous talks with other parties, He realized there was always a feeling politicians reach out to indigenous or queer people to help them fulfill their mandates.
“They often came to us what they wanted to see us do,” Desjarls said.
But then he met the federal NDP and his approach was different, he said.
“He didn’t ask the question of how we can serve his purpose… he just said: ‘We’re interested in helping people, we’re interested in making sure those who are champions in the community’ They have the tools they need. Make sure they feel represented.
During the campaign, he was helped by someone who knew well what it was like to run in that ride, and up against Diotte: Janice Irwin, Alberta legislator and federal candidate for the NDP in 2015.
“When I first heard that Blake was interested, I was really excited,” she told Granthshala.ca. told
Irwin said that during the 36-day campaign, the hunger for change was strong at the door. Between weak support for the Liberals, anger at the Conservatives in both federal and provincial, and enough interest in the People’s Party of Canada to snatch the vote, the New Democrats liked their chances.
That Diote was one of 62 Conservative lawmakers who voted against a proposed conversion therapy ban in the previous parliament may also have been a factor, with Irvine saying there is a “strong, growing queer and trans community” in the region. Is.
Irwin said, “I don’t know if I’ve seen the day when, you know, I, the only openly queer legislator, will be represented by my MP who is the only two-spirited federal member … that lonely handsome ‘Very unbelievable,'” Irwin said. . “Just think about that young, two-feeling kid who sees Blake in a situation like this, and how meaningful that is.”
Entering the new parliament, Desjarls is aware of the pressures that can be put on him as a voice for many under-represented groups in Alberta, including progressives.
“It’s often the blue blanket that Alberta is covered, there are some holes in it, and I really hope to try to funnel as much other perspective out of that hole as possible,” he said.
“I want to do the best I can to help people, and the Edmonton-Grisbach borders are not exclusive to that help… even if you are an Indigenous person or a person of color, or gay, you can come. We and I are going to make sure we help lawyer up for you as well,” he said.
After the party’s first meeting after the election, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced that Desjarlais would be part of his House leadership team, taking on the role of deputy caucus chair. He said that in that case it is his goal for his caucus to feel his voice, and for his constituents to be heard.