Fighting to change climate change

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of the most highly regarded Inuit activists and politicians of our times

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of the most highly regarded Inuit activists and politicians of our times.

Her work with the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)—a multinational non-government organization representing approximately 150,000 Inuit people in Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia and the United States—has lead to her championing the environment as well as the traditional way of life of her people.

She has directed her efforts towards putting an end to both the use of persistent organic pollutants and to global warming—a reflection of her concern for the health, livelihood and language of the Inuit. Sheila’s work has been awarded numerous times and in 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating how global climate change impacts on human rights.

Sheila was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik where she was raised traditionally, travelling by dog sled and canoe and eating local game. At 10 years old she was sent to live with a family in Nova Scotia for the purpose of earning an education. As a young woman she attended McGill University in Montreal, where she studied sociology and psychology before returning to Northern Quebec to work in education as a counsellor.

Her first steps into politics began in the mid-1990s when she became involved with the Makivik Corporation of Nunavik. There, as the group’s elected corporate secretary, she helped administer Inuit land claims. This work eventually led to her become involved with the ICC. She was president of the Canadian branch for three terms from 1995 to 2002 and then chair of the international ICC from 2002 to 2005.

During her years with the ICC she helped put Inuit concerns before the global community. On the heels of her time spent with the NGO, she helped launch the world’s first international legal action on climate change claiming that greenhouse gases produced in the United States violated human rights as guaranteed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Though the petition was never heard, she did testify in 2007 at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ hearing on climate change.

In 2015 a memoir about Sheila’s life and the effects of climate change on Inuit communities, The Right to Be Cold, was published. Currently this remarkable Canadian lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut where she continues to champion environmental causes.