Inuit climate change activist to speak at UMaine

Posted March 26, 2011, at 2:16 p.m.
Last modified March 27, 2011, at 4:45 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — The Canadian woman credited with inserting human rights issues into the discussion on global warming will speak Tuesday at Wells Common at the University of Maine.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, 57, will meet with students at 2 p.m. to discuss how global warming is impacting her native Arctic region.

She will speak to the public at 7 p.m. on “Everything is Connected: Environment, Economy, Foreign Policy, Sustainability, Human Rights and Leadership in the 21st Century.”

Watt-Cloutier, a member of the Inuit tribe, is spending the academic year as a teaching scholar at Bowdoin College’s Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center. Last year, she was named one of 25 transformational Canadians by the a Toronto newspaper.

As part of her efforts to educate people about the impact of global warming, she is writing a book, “The Right to be Cold.”

Watt-Cloutier gained international attention in 2005 when she submitted the first legal complaint linking climate change and human rights to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“With this petition, for the first time, climate change has a human face,” she said when she petitioned the organization for relief from human rights violations caused by global warming. “Until now, there has been no human connection with climate change — just bureaucracies. Few grasp it until they hear the stories.

“The industrialized countries and urban populations in particular have lost their connection to the natural world and could be looking to indigenous peoples, who retain the necessary knowledge, in order to regain that balance,” she continued. “Even though small in number and living far from the corridors of power, it appears that the wisdom of the land which Inuit possess strikes a universal chord on a planet where many are searching for sustainability.”

Watt-Cloutier was born into a hunting and fishing family in Kuujjuaq, a coastal community in northern Quebec’s Nunavik region, according to a Canadian newspaper article published in October. Until she was 10, Watt-Cloutier traveled only by dogsled and did not speak English until she started school.

Her career in politics began in 1995 after she worked as an educational and community advocate. That year, she was elected corporate secretary of Makivik Corp., which oversees Inuit land claims. She took on a larger public role over the next 10 years as head of the Canadian and then the international branch of the Circumpolar Council.

Watt-Cloutier’s work earned her a Nobel Prize nomination in 2007 and the Order of Canada in 2006. Two years ago, Bowdoin College awarded her an honorary degree.

She has two adult children and a grandson, according to the website for the “Encyclopedia of the Arctic.” Her daughter is a well-known traditional Inuit throat-singer, drum-dancer and singer. Her son is a pilot and the youngest captain ever employed by Air Inuit.

Watt-Cloutier’s appearances at UMaine are being sponsored by the Canadian Consulate General in Boston, the Canadian-American Center and the University of Maine.

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