Watt-Cloutier calls for return to traditional knowledge

Environmental activist gives final keynote at Northern Lights conference in Ottawa

Environmental activist and Nobel Prize nominee Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier closed this year’s Northern Lights conference and trade show in Ottawa with a keynote speech about Inuit resilience. (Photo by Cedric Gallant, special to Nunatsiaq News)

By Cedric Gallant
Special to Nunatsiaq News

Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier says Inuit are facing a series of battles.

The environmental activist and Nobel Prize nominee closed out the Northern Lights conference and trade show in Ottawa Feb. 11 with a 45-minute keynote address that provided some ideas for how to fight those battles.

“We all know that we are dealing with the poverty, the violence, the suicides and the food insecurity,” she said, as she looked out at her peers and fellow Inuit in the room.

“We have come to tell the world that there is a lot of history that has to be understood if we are really going to move towards equal partnerships on equal footing. If reconciliation is to truly happen, this has to be understood.”

She also reflected on her career of fighting for the environment. She said that as a public speaker, she would always make sure she connected climate change with human rights.

“The ice is our life force,” she said.

“It’s about mobility and transportation, and when that starts to melt it becomes an issue of safety and security … It is an issue of human rights, because it is our right to be Inuit as dependent on that ice and the snow.”

Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2007 for her work showing the impact climate change was having on human rights, especially in the Arctic

In her speech at Northern Lights, she paid homage to traditional skills that should be learned again, not just to become better hunters or conservationists but to build character. She said she believes the success of any endeavour is reliant on the resilience and resourcefulness of its people.

She also spoke of patience, endurance, courage, persistence and boldness.

“These are all very important in Inuit culture, traditionally,” Watt-Cloutier said.

“Yet, we have not really incorporated them into our school systems and our programs.”

She said this oversight did not prepare Inuit well for the challenges and traumas that will come. She then called the leaders in the room to action.

“We need to think broader,” she said, calling on them to “innovate differently” to solve the issues in Inuit Nunangat.

“Just a few years ago, we used to stand so solidly together on high moral grounding to defend this way of life, but with the lure of the quick fixes it has become a bit harder.”

Watt-Cloutier was met by a standing ovation after her speech.


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(5) Comments:

  1. Posted by Future Shock on

    The spearhead of our issues today is not to be found in these tired, sterile calls for more ‘traditional knowledge’ or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Yet, an acknowledgment that no serious interpretation or meaning to these vague and uninspired statements around the necessity of TK/IQ is exactly where the real conversations about the future of Inuit should begin.

    • Posted by C.M. on

      Avataq organize Elders Conferences where their knowledge is recorded for us all to read and hear. Interesting when you listen, take in and think of what is said. We need to go beyond that, It is boring, response that we hear so often. Wisdom is more important that knowledge alone, we all would be better of with more of that.

  2. Posted by Colin on

    People of many cultures, like the Chinese, the Japanese and the Jews retain the culture they want to carry forward to the modern world. That’s not a big deal.

    What is a big deal is that people of any culture who are educated and skilled or engaged in or preparing for rewarding employment don’t suffer from that Sheila lists, namely poverty, the violence, the suicides and the food insecurity. And she left out teenage pregnancy, addictions, family violence, addictions and imprisonment.

    Two obvious things stand out. 1 Get an inventory of jobs in Nunavut and, notably, at Baffinland. And 2. Gear the delivery of education and skills training to having Inuit fill those jobs. All of those jobs, including doctors, dentists, accountants, engineers and geologists. You can blame Inuit leaders for the lack of dental care for children. For not enabling Inuit to become dentists.

    It’s disgraceful that some forty years after wretched leaders knew Nunavut was coming, only 14 percent of the jobs at Baffinland are filled by Inuit. And what about Canadian North, owned by Inuit since 1989?

    • Posted by Anon on

      The suggestion that people with education and good jobs don’t commit suicide is a fiction. You’re seriously misunderstanding the problems, and Baffinland is not going to solve them.

      • Posted by Kell on

        They surely do, but the rates at which they do so are much lower. So that is something worth taking note of.

        “Between 2000 and 2014, men and women aged ≥25 years with at least a college degree exhibited the lowest suicide rates; those with a high school degree displayed the highest rates. Men with a high school education were twice as likely to die by suicide compared with those with a college degree in 2014. ”

        Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28756896/

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