Environmental advocate addresses climate crisis as a human rights issue

Photo courtesy of VIU
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Climate change is a human rights issue — one which every person on the planet is inextricably linked to. This is what Sheila Watt-Cloutier Siila, one of the most influential Indigenous environmental, cultural and human rights advocates in the world, passionately believes. In her memoir: The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet, Watt-Cloutier explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture, and ultimately the world, in the face of past, present and future environmental degradation.

Watt-Cloutier is Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) sixth keynote speaker in the Engaged Citizens Speaker Series. On Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m., she will expand upon her own experiences and personal stories to put a cultural face and human voice on climate change and talk about meaningful actions. Her talk is titled: “Re-imagining a New Way Forward with Intention” and will be followed by a live Q&A session.

Watt-Cloutier was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik (northern Quebec), and was raised traditionally in her early years before attending school in southern Canada and in Churchill, Manitoba. She is the past Chair of Inuit Circumpolar Council, the international organization that represents the 155,000 Inuit of Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Chukotka in the Far East of the Russian Federation.

In recent years, Watt-Cloutier has alerted the world that Inuit will not become a footnote to the onslaught of globalization by working through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to defend Inuit human rights against the impacts of climate change. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact of global climate change on human rights — especially in the Arctic, where it is felt more immediately, and more dramatically, than anywhere elsewhere in the world.

Watt-Cloutier has received numerous awards and accolades, including the inaugural Global Environment Award from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations; the Aboriginal Achievement Award for Environment; the United Nations’ Champion of the Earth Award; the Earth Day Canada International Environment Award; and the Right Livelihood Award. She was made an officer in the Order of Canada in December 2006.

Watt-Cloutier sums up her work by saying: “I do nothing more than remind the world that the Arctic is not a barren land devoid of life but a rich and majestic land that has supported our resilient culture for millennia. Even though small in number and living far from the corridors of power, it appears that the wisdom of the land strikes a universal chord on a planet where many are searching for sustainability.”

The Engaged Citizens Speaker Series launched in Fall 2019 with the goal of encouraging “intellectual, engaging and meaningful dialogue about social challenges, opportunities and the community around us while advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”

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