Sheila Watt-Cloutier is an Inuit activist who was instrumental in helping the world understand the link between climate change impacts in the Arctic and human rights. At 60, this grandmother continues to be a leader of human rights for people living in the Arctic. Although she currently lives in Iqaluit, she was born into a
traditional Inuit family in Kuujjuaq, in Northern Quebec’s Nunavik
In 2005 she issued a legal petition against the US which focused on the relationship between climate change and human rights. This landmark effort helped to earn her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination alongside Al Gore in 2007. In addition to the nomination, she holds a number of honorary degrees and other awards. She received the Order of Canada in 2006.
In 2010 she was recognized as one of 25 “Transformational Canadians,” a program which celebrates living citizens who have made a difference by immeasurably improving the lives of others. In a 2013 book by Ken McGoogan, she was recognized as one of “50 Canadians Who Changed the World.”
Unlike some of her contemporaries she is not an advocate of conflict. “I have always engaged in the politics of influence rather than the politics of protest,” she said, “The style of leadership that I have is one of bringing people together and understanding that we’re all one here. The planet and its people are one.”
While she is a champion of Arctic ecological issues, she is not anti-business. When it comes to development in the north she advocates finding a balance between business interests and ecological concerns.
Her political leadership began in 1995, when she was elected corporate secretary of Makivik Corp. She then headed the Canadian and subsequently the international branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). At the ICC, she led Northern indigenous people from four countries in a campaign against persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which have long poisoned the Arctic food chain. She was also instrumental in negotiating a global treaty that seeks to ban these toxins.
Now Watt-Cloutier is on a mission to transform public opinion into public policy. As part of that endeavor she published a book in 2012 called The Right to Be Cold. In the book she explains that the Arctic is the early-warning system for climate change and its fate is relevant to everyone.
Recently, Watt-Cloutier was among a group of Canadian Inuit leaders who fondly remembered an impromptu meeting with Nelson Mandela whose plane briefly touched down in Iqaluit on July 1, 1990. Ten years later Watt-Cloutier met Mandela in Johannesburg, and the man reportedly remembered their brief encounter in 2000.
When Mandela died on December 5, she said that she was inspired by his leadership, “he modeled such integrity, strength, and
resilience in the face of such public persecution.”
Watt-Cloutier’s life story on the international scene may seem glorious, but the truth is that for much of the last 14 years, her journey has been defined by an
abiding sadness and sense of loss. First she lost her sister,
then her aunt, then her mother, and most recently her young cousin and young niece. This string of tragedies allegedly helped her to cultivate her insights and led to a profound understanding of the nature of existence.
those places of deep grief I deepened my personal journey,” she said.
“I could eventually translate my new perspectives into powerful
opportunities for personal change and growth. I came to see in a vivid
way that all things are interconnected and that all things happen for a
greater cause. I came to know trust in the life process. I came to know
courage, tenacity and commitment. I needed these character skills in
order to survive my grief. As it turned out, I also needed them to
strengthen and raise the volume of my own voice on the global stage.”
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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