Sheila Watt-Cloutier is an Inuit environmental and human rights advocate, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and author of The Right to Be Cold (Penguin, 2015). Sheila resided in Iqaluit, Nunavut for 15 years and has returned back to her hometown of Kuujjuaq, Que. She was born in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik (northern Quebec) and was raised traditionally before attending school in southern Canada and in Churchill, Man. She is the past chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), an organization that represents 155,000 Inuit in Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia. She contributed significantly to ICC Canada’s Institution Building for Northern Russian Indigenous Peoples’ Project, which focused on economic development and training in remote northern communities.
During the past several years, Sheila has alerted the world that the Inuit will not become a footnote to the onslaught of globalization by working through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to defend Inuit human rights against the impacts of climate change. On December 7, 2005, she filed a climate-change-related petition to the commission as an urgent message from the Inuit “sentinels” to the rest of the world on global warming’s already dangerous impacts. On March 1, 2007, she testified before the commission during its extraordinary first hearing on the links between climate change and human rights.
On behalf of ICC Canada, Sheila received the inaugural Global Environment Award from the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in recognition of her work. She is the recipient of the 2004 Aboriginal Achievement Award for Environment. In 2005, she was honoured with the United Nations Champion of the Earth Award and the Sophie Prize in Norway. Later that year, she was presented with the inaugural Northern Medal by the outgoing governor general of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson. In 2017, Sheila received her twentieth honorary doctorate from the Law Society of Upper Canada in Toronto, Canada.
Sheila has served as a mentor for two Trudeau Foundation Scholars pursuing their PhDs. She remains connected to her life’s work through advocacy work, which included membership as commissioner on the civil society Commission on Arctic Climate Change led by the Aspen Institute. She has taught the “Human Dimension of Climate Change” both at Bowdoin College in Maine and at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. She remains busy with speaking engagements and a book tour promoting her book, The Right to Be Cold, which hit major bookstores in March 2015. Her book was shortlisted for British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing, the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize and the CBC’s Canada Reads competition.
In November 2015, she was one of four laureates awarded the Right Livelihood Award, considered the alternate Nobel Peace Prize, which was presented in the Parliament of Sweden. In 2017, she received the Climate Change Award from the Prince Albert of Monaco Foundation.
Sheila sums up her work by saying: “I do nothing more than remind the world that the Arctic is not a barren land devoid of life, but a rich and majestic land 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 sustainability.”