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Sheila Watt-Cloutier

The Right to Be Cold: The Arctic Environment, Climate Change, and Human Rights

Date Recorded: Mar 7th, 2006
Recorded At: The Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana’s Wilderness Lecture Series, Missoula, Montana
Recorded By: Montana Public Radio, KUFM
Duration: 57:11  

Topic Background

Watt-Cloutier argues that for the 155,000 residents of the circumpolar region, climate change has become a human rights issue, as its impacts are destroying communities’ rights to life, culture, health, property and means of subsistence.

For Inuit, sea ice allows for safe travel on the perilous Arctic waters and provides a stable platform from which to hunt. The ice forms not only ‘roads’ but also, Watt-Cloutier contends, the Inuit’s ‘supermarket’. Deteriorating ice conditions imperil Inuit in many ways, ranging from thinning ice creating safety issues for hunters, much shorter hunting seasons, and the demise of some ice dependent species such as ringed seals, walrus and polar bears which, according to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, will likely be pushed to extinction by the end of this century.

A study championed by the organization that Watt-Cloutier represented for many years – the Inuit Circumpolar Conference,or ICC, showed in 2004 that average annual temperatures are increasing more than twice as fast in the Arctic as in the rest of the world. Watt-Cloutier maintains that “The Inuit, on a daily basis, observe the minute changes that are occurring in the environment. We are the guardians of the environment, “ she explains, “ because we’re on the land every day … we’re the early warning system for the rest of the world.”

Speaker Biography

Sheila Watt -Cloutier is a climate change activist, outgoing Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and nominee for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Born in the tiny community of Kuujjuaq in Northern Quebec, Sheila Watt-Cloutier was raised traditionally on the land for ten years, before attending school in Churchill, Manitoba. She currently makes her home in Iqaluit, in Nunavut. In her capacity as President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, from 1995-2002, and her election as International Chair in 2002, she was successful in persuading states to sign a global agreement to ban the generation and use of persistent organic pollutants, such as DDT and the PCBs that contaminate the Arctic food chain.

Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she, with the ICC, has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. In December of 2005, the ICC petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, seeking a declaration that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Although the suit was rejected at first, the Commission held a hearing on the issue on March 1, 2007. An audio recording of the hearing is available at

In December 2006, Watt-Cloutier was named a “nation builder” in The Globe and Mail’s year-end roundup of people or groups who have made a significant contribution to Canadian society. She was recognized for her worldwide campaign to publicize these threats that greenhouse gases pose to the Inuit way of life. In June of the same year, the Canadian Environment Awards honoured Watt-Cloutier with the Citation of Lifetime Achievement for her climate-change work. Later that year, she was also named to the Order of Canada.

For more information about Sheila Watt-Cloutier visit

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