Today my PhD fellow Clara My and I attended a seminar at the Utrikespolitiska institute (Institute for international affairs) in Stockholm. The guest speaker was Sheila Watt-Coultier, an inspiring woman who just recently received one of the Right Livelihood Awards. Her short lecture was about her book “The right to be cold” in which she advocates Inuits’ rights. Her focus concerns a wide range of topics that are related to climate change. Her strong voice has lead to a shift in the discourse of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions that violate the collective human rights of the Inuit. Sheila’s lifelong project is to protect the Inuit of the Artic and defend their right to maintain their livelihoods and culture, which are acutely threatened by climate change.
Sheila narrated from a very personal point of view, giving us blunt insights to the challenges in her childhood and the present challenges in the role as a grandmother. She grew up in a “fatherless” household and has been inspired her whole life by being surrounded by strong women. This has certainly shaped her character: being a strong, articulative, convincing woman, trying to spread the important message of protecting the human rights of Inuits. In addition to her personal life and experiences, she told us about the importance of the culture and knowledge of her people. Sheila vividly explained how knowledge has been passed on through generations and how younger generations are trained on the ice, where they learn how to survive, feed the family and live in harmony with nature. What a stark contrast to the childhood in the “new world”!
Indeed, it is inspirational to listen to a woman who dedicates her whole life to raise awareness of inequality and the urgent need for change. Her views and speech are so credible and convincing, because even though she travels around the globe, she still lives from time to time with her people. She experiences the climate change next-door by seeing the ice forming too late in the season, and melting too early in the following year. Listening to the stories of her people who cannot apply their multi-generational knowledge anymore, since the flora and fauna around them has changed with the climate. There is a lot to learn about the Inuits’ philosophy of livelihood, especially from the perspective of a “new world” citizen.
Sheila certainly provoked us to question our live-style and unawareness of the importance to protecting “Inuits of the Artic”, for the sake of humans and nature.