The knowledge, values and wisdom of Indigenous Peoples hold the answers to the many challenges our world faces today. I strongly believe Indigenous wisdom is the medicine we seek in healing our planet and creating a sustainable world.
This thematic quarter we look at Human Rights and the Environment – Our focus for this Month is Sheila Watt-Cloutier.
From the icy Arctic to the global stage of the UN, Sheila Watt-Cloutier has paved the way for environmental activists across the world. For people like Sheila, the vanishing ice is life. Ice equates to transportation, shelter, food, identity, and culture. When envisioning a life without ice in shifting climatic settings, there is little hope for a stable and sustainable way forward.
Having spent the first ten years of her life travelling by a dog team, Sheila is well-acquainted with the intricacies of Inuit life. Based in northern Quebec, she paints the backdrop of Inuit life: a close-knit community, traditional lifestyle, and a dependency on ice. In her TED talk, she recalls a time where things ran smoothly in her community. More recently, her village is experiencing high suicide rates, food insecurity, trouble accessing clean drinking water, addiction, and violence. These she links to a dependency on insufficient institutions, but most notably historical traumas experienced by her and her people. The shared traumas stem from the collapse of the seal skin market and forced relocations into the High Arctic, which have complicated the previous way of being.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier is a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, where her efforts to display the interconnectedness of climate change and human rights, focusing on the Arctic region, were highlighted. An avid activist and driver for acknowledging Inuit rights, traditional Indigenous knowledge, and agency in decision-making for those living in the Arctic, Sheila has been an activist for over two decades. Her focus lies on maintaining age-old solutions founded by the Inuit peoples, and their effectiveness in changing the trajectory of global climate change from the area of the world where the toll of warming is already drastically uprooting everyday lives.
Notably in 2005, Sheila, acting as Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, along with other Inuit leaders, filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The landmark petition argued that the impact of climate change on the Arctic and its people violated their rights to life, health, culture, and the pursuit of happiness. The Commission’s acceptance of the petition marked a historic moment. It recognized the undeniable link between environmental changes and the erosion of fundamental human rights, setting a precedent for future environmental activism on the global stage. She is also the author of The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet.
Sheila’s contributions to human rights and activism are important to highlight. Insights from people like her allow for local understanding to fuel global knowledge. It is the people like her, who will be hit hardest by global warming if change does not occur. For that reason, it is crucial to listen to voices of such activists to bring human perspectives into the grander picture.