People: Northern Exposure

Nobel Peace Prize nominee and Inuit leader Sheila Watt-Cloutier speaks for the first victims of global warming

By Susan Cosier

Why did you decide to submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights?
I didn’t want to go in the direction of lawsuits, which would cost us enormous amounts of money. It would also discredit our work since lots of people would say, ‘Oh, they just want money. They just want compensation.’ It would weaken our cause. We wove in all of the changes that were happening up here in terms of our cultural way of life, our right to health, our right to culture, our right to safety.

Were the Inuit people eager to sign the petition?
Yes. Some people were cautious because of fear of political backlash, but not moving ahead in this strong, bold way would have been even worse because the future holds such stark realities for us. The whole idea behind the petition is that it wasn’t an act of anger or aggression or confrontation. It was a gift, an act of generosity from an ancient culture to a society that has largely lost its connection to the rhythms and cycles of nature. It was not a way to strike out, but it was a way to reach out. This was a way to pressure the U.S. to come back as a leader.

What do you see as your biggest challenge moving forward?
I think the biggest challenge is to really get people to genuinely see climate change as a real, immediate, and urgent issue that needs to be addressed and to pull away from all of this politicizing of the issue. I would think that this is the biggest challenge at the political level. I think the citizens themselves, even within my country and the U.S., seem to be moving ahead of their own governments, which is a great sign. But at the same time we’re bound by political structures and a culture of politics.

How long do you expect to fight for this cause?
As long as it takes. This is a life passion. I’m hoping that the global community will get the message very soon and start to really work together. I’m hoping that there will be a time when one doesn’t have to be standing on the rooftop here in the Arctic trying to tell that story to a deaf audience. The interest that seems to be building up now is only going to grow.

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Issue 25

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