With a powerful and pragmatic voice, Sheila Watt-Cloutier is teaching the world that climate change and human rights are inter-connected. In doing so, the environmental advocate and champion of Inuit rights is slowly but successfully turning public opinion into public policy.
The issues Sheila Watt-Cloutier faces on a daily basis in her pioneering work in the Arctic are big issues: melting sea ice, rapidly eroding coastlines, dangerously unpredictable weather patterns and changing wildlife habitats. But despite the immensity of the challenge, Sheila Watt-Cloutier has emerged as a passionate and respected leader making massive contributions to the environmental, economic and political discourse that dominates debate on climate change.
The Arctic is her focus for a number of reasons. It is considered by many to be a health barometer for the planet. It is where she served as an elected political spokesperson for over a decade. And it is her home. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, originally from Kuujjuaq in Northern Quebec, lives in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
As Canadian President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council from 1995 to 2002, Sheila Watt-Cloutier played an instrumental role in negotiating a breakthrough global treaty that now bans organic pollutants that were contaminating the Arctic food chain.
In 2002, Sheila Watt-Cloutier was elected International Chair of that Council, representing more than 155,000 Inuit in Canada, the United States, Greenland and Russia. As Chair, she helped launch the world’s first international legal action on climate change. With 62 others from Nunavut, Sheila Watt-Cloutier filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In March, 2007, she appeared before that Commission to testify that unchecked greenhouse gases from the United States violated human rights.
An Officer of the Order of Canada, Sheila Watt-Cloutier is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing her environmental accomplishments. These include a UN Lifetime Achievement Award for Human Development; a Global Green USA Award for International Environmental Leadership; the Northern Medal from the Governor General of Canada; and an Aboriginal Achievement Award for Environment.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s message is candid and clear: the cars we drive, the industries we support and the disposable world we have become are all connected to dramatic impacts being felt now in the Arctic. It’s a message that resonates with Royal Roads University and our commitment to forge a sustainable future . . . not just for the campus but for the wider community and the world.
Mr. Chancellor, it is indeed an honour to present Sheila Watt-Cloutier for the degree, Doctorate of Laws, honoris causa.