Politician • Canada
“I have attempted to alert the world that Inuit will not become a footnote in the history of globalization”
Sheila Watt-Cloutier is an Inuit political figure committed to defending her people’s culture. Born in Nunavik in 1953, she was international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) from 2002 to 2006. Candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, she has won many awards including the United Nation’s Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Award in 2007.
The Arctic is my home. I now reside in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in Canada, and was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik (northern Quebec). I was raised traditionally in my early years, before attending school in southern Canada. I am the former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the organisation that represents internationally the 155,000 Inuit of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Chukotka. I have had the opportunity to serve as a political spokesperson for the Inuit for over a decade. Defending the rights of Inuit was at the forefront of my mandate after my election as President of ICC Canada in 1995. There, I served as a spokesperson for a coalition of northern indigenous peoples in the global negotiations that led to the 2001 Stockholm Convention banning the manufacture and use of persistent organic pollutants that contaminated the arctic food web and the nursing milk of Inuit mothers. During the past several years, first as international chair of ICC from 2002 to 2006, and most recently as an independent voice, as the rapid changes observed across the Arctic began to deeply affect our communities, I have attempted to alert the world that the Inuit will not become a footnote in the history of globalisation. Together, our team worked through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to defend Inuit rights against the impacts of climate change. In December 2005, we filed a petition with the IACHR as an urgent message to the world, and particularly the United States, showing how the emissions from automobiles and industry far to the south were connected to Inuit hunters challenged with the melting ice. Our petition struck a tremendous chord globally, and eventually the Commission called on me to testify in March 2007 during its extraordinary first hearing on the links between climate change and human rights. I am now taking time to write a book on these issues in the hope of spreading our message ever further. Throughout my work, I have done nothing more than remind the world that the Arctic is not a barren land devoid of life but a rich and majestic environment 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 balanced sustainability.