Monday, October 08, 2007
The Nobel Peace Prize
Former Vice-President Al Gore, and Inuit activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, are co-nominees for this years Nobel Peace Prize, to be announced in Oslo, this coming Friday morning, October 12th. Everyone knows of Gore's books and film, An Inconvenient Truth, but few south of the Canadian border seem to be aware of Sheila Watt-Cloutier's work and that she is Gore's co-nominee.
Until this morning while slogging my way through my morning work out, I was one of the ignorant. As I do most mornings, I was listening to BBC World News which comes through on one of our local NPR radio stations. The report concentrated on the record breaking ice melt in the Canadian Arctic this summer, equaling in area the size of the United Kingdom multiplied 10 times. There was brief mention of Watt-Cloutier's nomination along with Gore for the Prize, along with a statement by her, concerning the fate of the Inuit people living "at the top of the world."
The report quite startling to me, because of the image in my head of the size of the ice melt, became more so since when I went to BBC World News on the net, to read the print version of the story, Watt-Cloutier's name and comment were not included. Tonight, on one of the network news programs, Gore was hailed as being a nominee, but there was no mention of his co-nominee and her work, which began in the 1990's when she became a key political player in the Canadian Arctic, speaking for the rights of the Inuit people. I can't help but wonder why she was not mentioned, as her work, though not as widely known as Gore's, is every bit as compelling.
In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected international chairwomen of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, representing 155,00 Inuit who live in Canada, Greenland, Russia and Alaska. In 2005, when reports of thinning ice and eroding coastlines came to the forefront, she initiated the first international legal action on climate change, charging the United States of violating the rights of Inuit people by refusing to reduce its polution of the atmosphere causing global warming and endangering the Inuit culture. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with whom she and 62 Inuit elders and hunters filed the petition, declined to consider the petition until she was nominated along with Gore, for the Nobel Peace Prize. In March of this year, she was granted a brief hearing by the Commission, but they would not consider the entire petition. Go here, to hear a brief clip from her speech to the commission.
In addition to the honors above, Watt-Cloutier has been recognized for her work with awards from the World Asssociation of Non-Governmental Organizations, and the United Nations, the Sophie Prize in Norway and the Order of Canada, the highest honor the Canadian government can bestow.
A resident of Iqaluit on Baffin Island, Watt-Cloutier, has seen the effects of climate change and globalization. She was raised traditionally, on the ice and never traveled by anything other than dogsled until she was ten years old, when she was sent away to boarding school. She says "As Inuit, we have the highest suicide rate in North America, especially for our young men. And we have lots of addiction and social problems that we are trying to grapple with. I have a grandson who's nine and who's growing up here in the middle of all this. I want him to keep hunting, because the hunting culture is not well understood or is misunderstood. It is a really powerful training ground for our young people." She adds "Ultimately you learn to be wise about all kinds of choices, not only on the land. These are transferable skills that one would need, especially, in a transitioning culture such as ours. I know that many answers and solutions lie in the power of this wonderful resilient culture we have."