Blake Desjarlais is making history in more ways than one.
The new member of Parliament turned Edmonton Griesbach orange for the first time this week.
He is also the first Métis MP elected in the province.
But to him, the most important part of his win is getting the chance to bring new representation to Ottawa as the first two-spirit MP in Canadian history.
“Being an Indigenous young person that’s two spirit, being elected in many ways was like shattering a huge barrier that so many folks whether they’re young, Indigenous, two spirit or all of them have to think about, can we participate in society? Can we do these things? These questions of ifs, but I’m proud to say it can happen,” Desjarlais told Postmedia in an interview Thursday.
“And don’t ever let them tell you it can’t because I think I stand at least some testimony to the value of Indigenous people, to the hard work that we do and to our love of the country and so I think it’s in many ways a very proud moment.”
Desjarlais unseated incumbent Conservative MP Kerry Diotte — who had held the riding since its 2015 inception— after a neck-and-neck race in Monday’s federal election, edging out the Conservative by 1,468 votes after all mail-in ballots were counted.
Waiting for the official results was “torture,” he said, but the team was pushed into celebration once they realized they’ve done something historic.
Desjarlais’ win earned the NDP a second orange seat in the city, joining Heather McPherson who was re-elected in Edmonton Strathcona.
The 27-year-old, who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit, said representation seemed to matter to some voters in the Edmonton Griesbach riding. As he was door knocking, he met some Indigenous voters who voted for the first time.
“It was so cool to just see Indigenous people’s faces light up,” said Desjarlais. “Many of them had questions like, ‘Ive never voted before, how do I vote?’ And leading up to election day, particularly the advanced polls, that’s when I had a really good sense things were going to be dramatically different, that Indigenous people, people of colour, people who are typically marginalized in our society wanting to vote.”
Heading into his new position, Desjarlais said supporting those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic is his first priority.
“Right now, it’s about defending workers in public health care,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous issue this pandemic and COVID-19 in Alberta. We’ve seen such failure of representation from Jason Kenney, failure of leadership from the Alberta caucus at the UCP to actually deal and manage with the health crisis that we’re currently experiencing.”
NDP opposition Leader Rachel Notley congratulated McPherson and Desjarlais during a media availability on Tuesday.
“I think Blake is one of the first, if not the first, two-spirited Indigenous MP to be elected to the house of commons and I think that’s really exciting and I think both he and Heather will be really good voices for Albertans when it comes to standing up for health care, for childcare, for pharmacare and for support for workers,” said Notley.
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