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The Right To Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet

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Now in paperback, one of Canada's most passionate environmental and human rights activists addresses the global threat of climate change from the intimate perspective of her own Arctic childhood

The Arctic ice is receding each year, but just as irreplaceable is the culture, the wisdom that has allowed the Inuit to thrive in the Far North for so long. And it's not just the Arctic. The whole world is changing in dangerous, unpredictable ways. Sheila Watt-Cloutier has devoted her life to protecting what is threatened and nurturing what has been wounded. In this culmination of Watt-Cloutier's regional, national, and international work over the last twenty-five years, The Right to Be Cold explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture, of which her own background is such an extraordinary example. This is a human story of resilience, commitment, and survival told from the unique vantage point of an Inuk woman who, in spite of many obstacles, rose from humble beginnings in the Arctic to become one of the most influential and decorated environmental, cultural, and human rights advocates in the world.

368 pages, Paperback

First published March 17, 2015

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About the author

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

2 books26 followers
Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of the world’s most recognized environmental and human rights activists. Experienced in working with global decision makers for over a decade, Watt-Cloutier offers a new model for twenty-first-century leadership. She treats the issues of our day—the environment, the economy, foreign policy, global health, and sustainability—not as separate concerns, but as a deeply interconnected whole.

In 2007, Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact global climate change has on human rights, especially in the Arctic, where it is felt more immediately and more dramatically than anywhere else in the world.

In addition to her Nobel nomination, Watt-Cloutier has been awarded the Aboriginal Achievement Award, the UN Champion of the Earth Award, and the prestigious Norwegian Sophie Prize. She is also an officer of the Order of Canada. From 1995 to 2002, she served as the elected Canadian president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). In 2002, she was elected international chair of the council. Under her leadership, the world’s first international legal action on climate change was launched with a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 255 reviews
Profile Image for Dianne.
549 reviews883 followers
January 24, 2021
I am obsessed with all things Arctic. I am fascinated by the land, the climate, the culture and the history of the Inuit. Mostly I haunt social media sites to discover what it’s like to live in the extreme north. I even have Kugluktuk and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut saved as favorites in the Weather Channel app so I can give my non-interested husband nightly updates on the weather conditions. (It’s currently 9 degrees in Kugluktuk and -18 degrees Farenheit in Rankin Inlet - a regular heat wave for Arctic winter. You’re welcome.)

Imagine my delight when I spotted this 2015 book newly available for order through my library system. Woot! I had no memory of having read about Watt-Cloutier before, but she is a woman who commands great respect and authority in the world for her work as a environmental and human rights advocate. Watt-Cloutier has worked internationally to sound the alarm on climate change, which is having a profound and accelerated affect at the top of the world. Her work led to a 2007 nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was eventually won by Al Gore.

This book is Watt-Cloutier’s memoir of growing up in the Arctic with her mother and grandmother and extended family, and then moving to various locales in Canada as her advocacy took her to an international stage. I loved learning more about the culture and traditions of the Inuit as well as the impact that climate change is having on their lives. Watt-Cloutier painstakingly retraces her steps from local leader to worldwide authority on environmental and human rights. There are more committees, committee member names and acronyms that I can begin to count. Several times my eyes glazed over due to the earnest recounting of EVERY. SINGLE. STEP. AND. MOMENT. in the political maneuvering and efforts to be heard on an international stage. But.....I skimmed a bit of that to get to the parts that revealed Watt-Cloutier’s wise and generous heart, her love for her people and her homeland. She is a true gentle but fierce warrior.

This is probably a book that would be mostly interesting to those with a passion for indigenous peoples, the Arctic or climate change policy wonks....or people who love acronyms. Personally, I am a card-carrying member of C.R.A.P. (Committee to Reduce Acronym Proliferation), so this was total acronym overload for me, but it was still a good learning experience. If anything, Watt-Cloutier deepened my love of the Arctic and woke me up to some very urgent climate change realities that will impact us all at some point.

Deepest respect to this impressive lady.

* BTW, if you’re going to be in Igoolik, Canada tomorrow night, bundle up - it’s going to be -22 degrees!
Profile Image for Allison.
256 reviews41 followers
February 15, 2017
You know, it's a hard book to rate, this one.

Watt-Cloutier's message is important and also unique. There are many books to read about Canada's aboriginal experience (past and present -- both generally horrifying, maybe hopeful?) but this one is unique in its Inuk narrative, which is different and really vital, I'm convinced. I very much appreciated the book for this perspective, and was really, truly, oddly, embarrassingly uninformed before reading it.

She covers a really wide range of issues, all of which I found interesting: housing issues, cultural issues, issues of governmental support (good and bad), of course environmental issues, human rights issues, mental health and addictions issues, and on and on. It's a comprehensive picture, I think, of where we're at with our north.

And so much of what she said was a learning experience for a first-generation southerner Canadian like me. From how hunting teaches patience and quiet, to how governmental programs help and hinder Inuk independence, to the global impact of climate change. And so it's really hard to settle on a star-rating for a book that aims to educate and uphold the human rights of an entire population.

As an experience, I found myself bogged down by the bureaucracy-speak of the book. If you're a government worker with a comfort in acronyms and red tape, you'll slide through the book easier than I did. As a regular Joe, I just don't speak the language, and so I had to resist the temptation to skim.

I am pleased the book has been written, and pleased to have had the opportunity to read it. I wish the book well in the upcoming Canada Reads debates -- it's on the shortlist! -- and think given the right defender, it may well have a chance of winning.
Profile Image for Brandon.
890 reviews233 followers
February 17, 2017
In The Right to be Cold, Sheila Watt-Cloutier recalls her childhood in the Canadian Arctic and her fight against the threat of climate change as an adult. The author takes us through her travels to Nova Scotia and Ontario at a young age, as well as her time in a residential vocational school in Churchill, Manitoba. During her years away from home, she had lost a great deal of her culture - it would be years before she was again fluent in her mother tongue - and when she returned home, it would be a different community than the one she had left.

Watt-Cloutier tells of her battles with the KSB ( Kuujjuaq School Board) as a member of an independent task force charged with improving the education system. As her career developed, she took a position with Inuit Circumpolar Council where she began her fight to recognize climate change as a human rights issue rather than a political or economical issue. The way she explains it is that basically the Arctic acts as a sort of giant petri dish for POPs (persistent organic pollutants). As the industrialized world to the south releases more and more pollutants into the atmosphere, as the chemicals evaporate, they settle into colder climates to the north. In turn, this contaminates the air, the animals (food source) and the water. Before this was discovered, the lack of industry in the North led to the common belief that the Arctic is a pristine and unaffected ecosystem, but all the pollution from the industrialized south - from which the Northern community receives no direct economic benefit - has turned their environment into a toxic depository.

Another topic discussed, albeit briefly, is the residential school system. Canada’s a great country, right? We’re often portrayed as harmless, hockey fanatics who just can’t stop apologizing to everyone, even if we did nothing wrong. That’s why it is so shocking to look into our past and see a pretty brutal and often overlooked era in our nation’s history. The mistreatment of our indigenous population is something I had only recently been made vaguely aware of and I can guarantee you it is something I was not taught in school (side note: Canada did offer a formal apology in 2008). Sheila’s own experiences in the residential school system, while upsetting, were a walk in the park compared to those suffered by the students at the ones run by Christian missionaries - something she seems to feel a lot of guilt over.

Much of the information in here is unsettling to say the least and for that reason alone, I believe this to be an important book. It’s easy to stick your head in the sand and ignore the more unsavory aspects of our great country but Canadians should be made aware of their history, warts and all. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very real struggles of those who have had their culture and rights swept under the rug.
Profile Image for Jackie.
22 reviews
February 26, 2016
It took me quite awhile to read this book. No fault of the book. Sheila is clear in her writing. Her mandate is simple in its delivery. Her passion is endless. She is unapologetic. She is bold. I saw her speak during Wordfest in Calgary, this past fall. She isn't an entertainer and seemed set apart from the other writers on the panel. And now I know why. Sheilas book isn't just a biography but a warning. A collection of warnings spanning numerous years from all over the arctic, using her home front as the map of certain disaster. I have to admit, I am a changed person. I had very little knowledge of the arctic and its people. Never mind what the last 60 years of colonialism has done to them. But the shocker for me was to realize that colonialism is near synonymous with industrialism which is the sole perpetrator of ecoside. Sheila makes an interesting statement at the end of the book about fusing culture with economics, there by creating a more personal economy that thrives off their natural conservation efforts that are already in place to preserve their culture. (That feels like a word circle) I think it has merrit. And I am going to read the reference material she suggested: Two Ways of Knowing: Merging Science with Traditional Knowledge. On the note of knowledge, read the quote from Rosemarie Kuptana on page 319. It challeges the idea of 1 supreme education system. Sheila challenges that notion a few times in the book. She feels that her culture and traditional knowledge "offers a wise and empowering base to build on" and she back it up. I have a very new view of how the other end of my countrymen live.

Reading the book made me feel like I was late to the game. Stupid, even. And horrified at my own countries silence on Sheilas human Rights platform. And as the tug of war wages on for access to the arctics resources; my heart is heavy for Sheila and her people. I feel as if it's to late. (As I reread this, I wonder at my own lack of horror at my disconnected view of global connectedness and how my own choices and ignorance make me culpable to this catastrophe. If I dare ask the question "What more can I do?" then it should be answered with more than, "Well, I don't shop at Walmart and I recycle.")

I feel ill. Different.

I haven't read alot of biographies, 2 others to be exact. So I can't really comment on the how to of it all. But I had read reviews that this book wasn't truly a biography. I disagree. Minus the personal gore and guts of everyday life, she shared the heart of what makes her life matter to her. And she shared that with alot of abbreviations.

Five stars for shattering the rose coloured glasses.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,333 reviews495 followers
May 6, 2017
In a sense, Inuit of my generation have lived in both the ice age and the space age. The modern world arrived slowly in some places in the world, and quickly in others. But in the Arctic, it appeared in a single generation. Like everyone I grew up with, I have seen ancient traditions give way to southern habits. I have seen communities broken apart or transformed dramatically by government policies. I have seen Inuit traditional wisdom supplanted by southern programs and institutions. And most shockingly, like all my fellow Inuit, I have seen what seemed permanent begin to melt away.

When I was in Peru recently, I was excited to visit the floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca: Having fled across the highlands from the advancing Inca, the Uros people took to the water, and by ingeniously weaving the widely available reeds into floating blocks, they were able to build a homeland that the Inca then grudgingly allowed to them (when the Spaniards eventually arrived, they also left the Uros to their islands; what use are floating reeds to gold-hungry Conquistadors?) The Uros still use totora reeds to build their homes and boats, and the young vitamin-rich shoots supplement the protein-heavy diet provided by the lake (this diet and lifestyle are so healthy that our local guide explained that his 101-year-old grandmother still plays volleyball weekly). I was enchanted to be shown this unique culture and dismayed to learn that climate change is lowering the water levels on Lake Titicaca and threatening the reeds that literally support a traditional people's way of life: What the Inca and Spaniards failed to do, we will accomplish with our Humvees and our coalstacks. I am someone who rolls my eyes at environmentalism as cause célèbre – I won't be lectured by jet-setting millionaires like Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio – but it's a whole different experience to see an Indigenous people (people whose ingenuity and wisdom has sustained life, where it shouldn't even be possible, for countless generations) be threatened by circumstances over which they have no control. When you put this human face to climate change, the issue becomes less about politics and more about people; and hopefully, spurs action. As an Inuit activist, Sheila Watt-Cloutier has spent her career pointing out that her people are at the forefront of experiencing negative changes to our planet's health: and as she explains in The Right To Be Cold, as goes the Arctic, so go we all; what could be more important to read?

Without a stable, safe climate, people cannot exercise their economic, social or cultural rights. For Inuit, as for all of us, this is what I call the right to be cold. And this is what I have been fighting for over the last twenty years of my life's work.

The Right To Be Cold is Watt-Cloutier's memoir and is interesting at both the personal level – she describes a loving childhood playing on the tundra and joining in her people's traditional ways – and on a professional level – as Watt-Cloutier was chosen as a potential leader in her youth and sent away for a “southern” education, she was prepared to write and speak and act on behalf of her people (in the ways that we southeners expect to interact) when the opportunities arose. I see some reviewers found the endless acronyms of international agencies, dates, names, and conferences to be dull or confusing, but I appreciate that Watt-Cloutier was thorough in this history (and as she seems to be using this book as an opportunity to thank the people who helped her and spread out the accolades that she personally received, that's understandable). What I found most interesting: After years of being involved with health care in her home community and education from her marital home-base of Montreal, Watt-Cloutier eventually got involved with the Inuit Circumpolar Council (an NGO that represents the interests of the Inuit from Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Greenland), and through them, attempted to discontinue the use of POPs (Persistent Organic Pollutants) throughout the world. She had learned that these pollutants evaporate in warm climates, and after travelling through the jet streams, eventually condense at the poles: toxins found in POPs were discovered in Inuit mothers' breast milk and in their infants' cord blood. Yet when she tried to raise the alarm about POPs at international conferences, she was met with resistance from African delegates: How do you compare the health issues of 160,000 worldwide Inuit to the millions of African babies who are saved from death by malaria every year by spraying for mosquitoes with DDT? Watt-Cloutier eventually made it clear that this isn't either/or – as goes the Arctic, so go we all – and by putting a human face on environmentalism, she eventually got her treaty (by which developing countries weren't bound, and which the US refused to sign).

When Watt-Cloutier was approached by Earth Justice and the Center for International Environmental Law and asked if she would be interested in launching an international human rights case linking climate change to her people's “right to be cold”, she was ready to enter a new phase in her career. Not only was she seeing the devastating tangible effects of global warming in the Arctic – the permafrost was melting, causing roads and buildings to buckle; reduced sea ice changed the migratory habits of the animals that Inuit harvest; elders could no longer read the clouds and warn of incoming storms – but Watt-Cloutier makes the case that hunting and living on the land are fundamental to who the Inuit are as a people: climate change was as much about cultural devastation as environmental. Ultimately, Watt-Cloutier was co-nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore) for her work on climate change, and while she was severed from Gore before his win, she was delighted by the media attention that the nomination garnered for the cause.

Science is a body of knowledge and a way of knowing based on rigorous observation. By this definition, the hunters who criss-cross the ice and snow and embody centuries of observation are scientists. When they describe what is happening to their landscape, the world needs to listen.

By far, the most resistance Watt-Cloutier has experienced has been from “white men from warm countries”; and not only from those who run the endless backroom negotiations at international conferences, but also well-meaning and misguided activists. Greenpeace supports the Inuit's right to a clean environment, but protest their (sustainable and culturally imperative) seal hunt. The Sea Shepherds attempted to block Watt-Cloutier from receiving an environmental award because of her people's (sustainable and culturally imperative) whaling activities. Not only could Al Gore's people not squeeze in even a phone call between Watt-Cloutier and her co-nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, but Paul McCartney never responded to her invitation to have him come north and witness in person the seal harvest that he maligns. Activists have recently prompted the US government to put the polar bear on the endangered species list, and not only did that collapse the Inuit guide/hunting industry, but according to the Inuit themselves, polar bear numbers are steady and not in decline.

The most interesting issue facing the Inuit today is that of resource extraction: As the ice melts and the northern waters become navigable, there's a potential resource boom in store for the region's indigenous people. Watt-Cloutier is very aware of the potential hypocrisy of her long having represented her people as victims of the fossil fuel industry just as they (who have otherwise lost the ability to sustain themselves through traditional means) are about to benefit greatly from this same industry. While Watt-Cloutier doesn't disparage those who might seek this kind of prosperity, she believes that the only viable way forward is to continue to battle for the right to be cold; to attempt to return the Arctic to the conditions that would allow her own grandson to learn the wisdom, patience, and courage that a traditional hunting trip imparts from elders to youth. I have no idea if those days are gone forever.

It's easy for us “southeners” to say, “Well, the Inuit will need to move down to the cities”, or “Those Uros will need to move off of Lake Titicaca”: after all, humankind has always been mobile and adaptable in the face of changing climate; we survived the ice ages, right? But Watt-Cloutier really impresses on the point that there is value and spirituality inherent in a traditional way of life; that the foods her people harvest nourish more than the body; that they should have the right to express their traditional ways. As she so impressed me with the human face of this issue, I can't fault that conclusion.

If the theme of this year's Canada Reads contest was “The book Canada needs right now”, I have no idea how The Right To Be Cold didn't win.
Profile Image for Louise.
826 reviews
February 13, 2017
While there is some very important information in this book that Canadians (and the rest of the world) need to be made aware of, the delivery fails. The book is tedious to read filled with names of people and committee meetings that could and should have been edited out. Watt-Cloutier is extremely repetitive, and should have hired a ghost writer. This is not a well written book, thus it was a slog to get through.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,443 reviews180 followers
December 10, 2020
This is a beautifully written, eloquent book, with the author’s deep love for her home coming through on every page, as well as her passion for defending it and educating the rest of the world about it.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier learned early from her grandmother and mother the importance of family, community, sharing, and of resilience. She also learned from her fellow Inuit how important the land is for well-being, She tells us of the vibrant and difficult lives of the indigenous who have lived in the unforgiving lands at the top of the world in Canada, the US, Russia, and Greenland. She writes of the impacts of southern attitudes, practices, manufacturing, resource extraction and foods that have had a deleterious effect on the lives of the Inuit, from the loss of language and traditional ways of life that are intimately tied to Inuit spiritual well-being, the loss of health, and loss of the land because of a rapidly changing climate, and increasing rates of physical and alcohol abuse, and suicide. The Arctic is a hugely important moderator on the weather and climates of all lands south of it, and we ignore its loss at our own risk.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier also describes the many long years she and others in governmental and non-governmental organizations have explained how human rights are intimately tied to protecting the climate. It was fascinating to see how, despite the seemingly glacial pace (yea, the pun is intended) of crafting international agreements, how vital her and other indigenous individuals’ efforts have been in putting a human face on climate change, bringing something so big into better focus.
Profile Image for Barth Siemens.
347 reviews12 followers
February 17, 2017
This book is not a super-highway to anywhere. But a book need not be—especially a memoir. Cards on the table? I usually avoid memoirs, but this paragraph from the cover jacket drew me in.

The Right to Be Cold explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture—and ultimately the world—in the face of past, present, and future environmental degradation. Sheila Watt-Cloutier passionately argues that climate change is a human rights issue and one to which all of us on the planet are inextricably linked. The Right to Be Cold is the culmination of Watt-Cloutier's regional, national, and international work over the last twenty-five years, weaving historical traumas and current issues such as climate change, leadership, and sustainability in the Arctic into her personal story to give a coherent and holistic voice to an important subject.

In my opinion, this book falls short of the promise.

A memoir can take interesting highways—for the expansive views. We will traverse side roads to get to historic sites. Oh, let's turn down that alley because that's a pretty cat. I think maybe we can cut through that yard to get back to the side road. Wow, check out that shrub. There was a shrub on the property where I was visiting when I first thought about climate change. Oh, I was distracted. Now, how do we get back to the highway?

My point? Too many words. Like this review. The author has probably done some extremely important things for the environment. For that, I thank her. She has probably been an important voice for the Inuit people. For that, I honour her. But it doesn't come through in this book.

I knew this book was bogged down when the author went on about her disappointment that Al Gore wouldn't give her the time of day. And then she was miffed that he got the Nobel Prize instead of her. But it was just a political decision. Hint: international prizes are always political. That's the whole point.

Really, I picked up this book because it is shortlisted for Canada Reads this year. "What is the one book Canadians need now?" That is the question that the host will ask contenders. I cannot see how it could be this book.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,390 reviews302 followers
February 7, 2018

3.5 only because the later part has SO MUCH detail it is overwhelming to the general reader

The Right To Be Cold is Sheila Watt-Clouier's biography, concentrating on her life's work to protect the Inuit culture and the Arctic. She is inspiring and courageous.

She shares her story of growing up in Nunavik, learning her people's traditional way of life, hunting and preparing 'country food'. Young people were taught how to survive in the harsh climate. Igloos were stronger than tents and offered protection from both weather and polar bears. Sled dogs were smart and capable and reliable.

Then she was sent to the 'South' for her education and was exposed to modern, Western life. She lost fluency in her native language.

Returning to her Arctic home she became involved in education. She saw how Southern colonialism was destroying her people's culture, resulting in a rise of addiction and suicides.

Sheila became an activist for her people, first in education and culture preservation, and later in environment and climate change. The warming of the Arctic, caused by Southern use of fossil fuels, also means the destruction of her people's way of life, the animals they depend upon, and the very land they live on. Her efforts to link climate change to human rights earned her consideration for the Pulitzer Prize--lost that year to Al Gore.

Sheila's childhood memories offer a great understanding of her native culture, and her early experience in the South informs readers how traditional knowledge is lost. Her chapters on her activism and achievements are detailed and sometimes overwhelming; I can't imagine how she maintained the energy and strength to do what she has done.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
29 reviews
October 25, 2021
I had a hard time rating this book. The message is powerful, but the read itself was a slog. This being said, it is incredibly thought provoking and opened my eyes to some of the world’s most serious environmental issues.
Profile Image for LibraryCin.
2,206 reviews45 followers
December 7, 2019
3.5 stars

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was born in a Northern Quebec Inuit community and raised by her mother and her grandmother. She was sent away to school in Churchill, and (mostly) enjoyed her time there. She later married, had kids, and went back and forth between her home in Northern Quebec and the southern part of the province.

Eventually, she would become an activist; she is most commonly associated with environmental activism, but really she is an activist for her Inuit culture, for education and health care, and yes, for the environment and climate change, and how it is currently affecting the Inuit culture and lifestyle. They are seeing the effects of climate change now, and they feel that they deserve “the right to be cold” – they need that cold – in order to sustain their traditional culture.

This was good. I expected more of the environmental aspect in the book (and a lot of that did come in the 2nd half), but actually ended up enjoying the biographical part of the book best. Much of the 2nd half of the book included her travels to various conferences and counsels to tell the story of the Inuit to put a “human face” on the environmental crisis in the Arctic. Surprising to me, I just didn’t find that part as interesting. Overall, though, I liked it.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
129 reviews
April 21, 2020
I read this one for a book club and got so stuck in the middle that I didn't finish it in time for the meet up. The issue I was having was that I got hung up on all the abbreviations of different organizations and the rebuttal writing tone I was picking up about all the political infighting. However my friends from the club encouraged me to push through all the abbreviations and Anne made an excellent point that the Authour had legitimate reasons for being defensive as she was so continually under fire in her activism.

I'm so glad I read the second half! I ended up really loving the mash up of a coming of age memoir with an activist manifesto. It was refreshing to see a reflection of a woman's life that had everything in it all mixed together: memories of growing up, activism, an incredible career, travel stories, family struggles and family joy.
Profile Image for Michael Kerr.
Author 1 book6 followers
March 1, 2016
This book begins as a straight-up memoir of Inuit life at the moment of great transition from a traditional hunting culture to what we think of as modernity. Parts of it are shocking, tragic, and reveal shameful actions on the part of Canada's government. This narrative beginning gives context to the drive for change the author clearly demonstrates as the text then shifts to more overt political activism. Watt-Cloutier couches the climate-change argument in human terms, seeing it as a human rights issue; a point of view that resonates powerfully. Well worth your time, even if the text could have benefited from a good brisk edit.
Profile Image for Kat.
83 reviews43 followers
January 19, 2022
This was a really great read. I learned a lot about the Arctic, Inuit culture, and the fight against climate change. My particular interest was reading about the POPs in the Arctic.
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books325 followers
July 24, 2018
This is a fascinating memoir and cultural store from the author's memory of growing up as an Inuit in northern Canada, from the late 1950s.
If I told a normal person in Dublin that I was going to live with a child somewhere that had no sanitation, no major hospital, no fresh fruit except when berries ripened in autumn, no sanitary pads, no pill, alcoholism was rife, a mother was so poor she had to give away one of her babies when she was expecting a third, the child would be at risk from polar bears, epidemic disease, frostbite, hypothermia and would eat freshly butchered raw seal with their fingers, I would be locked up for child cruelty.
This is like when Saddam Hussein pushed the Marsh Arabs into towns and drained the marsh. When the marshes were restored and the Arabs told they could return to their old ways of life, the kids didn't want to go, because now they had bicycles, TV, electronic games and the services of town life.

I fully agree with the author that climate change is warming the Arctic and melting sea ice, removing wildlife habitat, spreading tundra fires and making it difficult for people who want to live in traditional ways. I would say that a compromise needs to be made. Let's try to stem the carbon emissions and at the same time, let's educate the Inuit, by broadband or DVD if needed, in how to help preserve what they have... while taking the most useful parts of technology and medicine to help themselves.

The author includes a mention of the widespread, shameful abuse of children at industrial schools, especially religious-run, saying she didn't experience it herself but there was a culture of silence. How is it that the people you really want to get eaten by a polar bear, don't?

The author went back to be the X-ray technician at her hospital, when her eyes were opened to violent abuse of women by drunken men. Later she reveals that - just as we read in Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee - the means of support and transport for Inuit families, the dog teams, were removed, brutally, by the government forces. This is a heartbreaking memoir on many levels.

By the end the author was talking to commissions - the UN, COP, Inuit Circumpolar Council, of which she was elected chair - about melting permafrost and the loss of the Arctic ice, the problems for other communities. Fortunately she was able to get out to the world and explain the problems, campaign, ask for a halt to exploitation of gas and oil. Some well known names are dropped, we learn of persistent organic pollutants. However...
I agree that a cartoon of a polar bear drinking cola is disgusting, considering plastic pollution. I don't agree that slaughtering seals and whales is fine. Wildlife now makes up only two percent of all animal life on Earth. Why should Ireland protect all marine mammals (which means we have to protect the sea and land on which they live) if the Inuit (or Iceland or Japan) are going to eat them? Wanting to preserve culture is great, but don't ask Irish women to go back to being barefoot and pregnant in a cottage and cooking from one pot over a turf fire for a family of twelve.

Index and notes P 357 - 364. I counted 64 names which I could be sure were female.
My e-ARC had no photos, which would have helped. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to be better informed in the debates on how our climate is warming. However, due to some distressing scenes, I recommend this to adults or mature teens.
I downloaded an e-ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review.

Profile Image for Elinor.
Author 3 books163 followers
July 4, 2022
An eye-opening memoir written from the little-known perspective of an Inuit woman, who has tackled many complex issues: mainly the effects of global warming on the people who live in the Arctic, but also social change, the role of governments, and how to effect positive change on a worldwide basis when everyone has an agenda. Her thoughts on all these things will continue to resonate with me. However, there were far too many references to people’s names and organizations (identified with acronyms) which muddied the written waters and made it a difficult book to read. I found myself sifting through pages of verbiage trying to find the gold.
Profile Image for Abigale Miller.
29 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2017
The Right to Be Cold is a memoir about Sheila Watt-Cloutier's life in the Arctic and her life work fighting climate change.
The content of this book is incredibly important. In reading it, I learned so much about Inuit culture; about the connections between the Arctic environment and ecosystems elsewhere; and the connections between culture and the environment. Sheila Watt-Cloutier does a remarkable job explaining how protecting the Arctic and Inuit culture can help protect the whole world, and equally, how important it is for Inuit to be in control of these changes and the management of their own society and future. It sounds obvious, but she gives many examples of well-intentioned Southerners trying to "help" the North but taking a misguided approach and making things worse. A story that's repeated for many Indigenous cultures around the world, I'm sure. This book echoes many of the points made in Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything.
Having said that, the book is tedious to read. The middle third, especially, is a methodical chronicle of the many committees on which Sheila served, task force reports to which she contributed and negotiation meetings she attended. All of her work is very important, but reading about it is very dry.
It's worth reading to get a better understanding of more effects of climate change and to understand the life of a remarkable woman.
Profile Image for David.
19 reviews
November 25, 2016
A very interesting biography of one of the leading Inuk women of our time. This book brought to life the reality of the true people of the north through Watt-Cloutier's frank telling of life in the north for the Inuit and how the last decades have changed so much for them and the land. Valuable lessons for all of us.
Profile Image for Leif.
1,620 reviews86 followers
July 11, 2017
Loved it. I learned a lot from this book and marveled at the precise concision of the language. As a biography, this might leave readers wondering after more personal details, but I enjoyed the political elements of Watt-Cloutier's historic interventions into POPs and human rights at the international level.
Profile Image for Amarah H-S.
109 reviews1 follower
March 19, 2021
this was a rlly insightful and interesting book - a lot of rlly important perspective on climate change as a human rights issue.

my only complaint is that there were way too many acronyms and lists of peoples names ,, it was rlly hard to keep track of what each acronym meant and who each person was. rlly impacted the readability.
Author 4 books3 followers
June 2, 2017
Too bad. This is an important book about an important topic, but I just found it too tedious. I wish she had spent more time on life in the Arctic then and now with so much climate change and less on the political/interpersonal problems. I read only about a third of it.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
865 reviews
March 22, 2022
This book is hard for me to rate.

THE RIGHT TO BE COLD: ONE WOMAN'S STORY OF PROTECTING HER CULTURE, THE ARCTIC AND THE WHOLE PLANET by Sheila Watt-Cloutier is a moving and passionate memoir. This book was a finalist for the Canada Reads Prize in 2017.

Watt-Cloutier tells her life story - her early childhood in the Arctic, her school years down south and away from home, friendships and her working years. Her attention to details made me feel as if I was with her in the Arctic and experiencing her joy, love, homesickness, hard work, frustration, and hope.

Watt-Cloutier shares the parallels between the safeguarding of the Arctic and the survival of her Inuit culture. In 2007, Sheila Watt-Cloutier was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work in showing the impact Global climate change has on human rights, especially in the Arctic.

I'll share some of her quotes that I may wish to revisit.
"Leadership…means never losing sight of the fact that the issues at hand are so much bigger than you. Leadership is about working from a principled and ethical place within yourself. It is to model, authentically, for others, a sense of calm, clarity and focus. Leadership is to always check inward, to ensure you are leading from a position of strength, not fear or victimhood, so you do not project your own limitations to those you are modelling possibilities for."

"I have come to understand that God is very precise. There is a space and a place in the world's unconsciousness, in the universe, where all things are known, where all things are understood and where all things connect. We are always given signs if we stay alert to them, which in turn allows us to see that our personal experiences and our interpretation of them can have great meaning in the larger scheme of our life's journey."

Reading this book has taught me much about life in the Arctic and the disruption and devastation "climate change" has already caused to the people who live there.

As Watt-Cloutier writes, “the future of Inuit is the future of the rest of the world – our home is a barometer for what is happening to our entire planet.”
4 stars
148 reviews
June 1, 2019
Sheila Watt-Cloutier offers a first-hand account of how much the Inuit way of life and culture has changed over the past few decades as a result of federal policies, pollution, and climate change. She talks at length about the observations she's built over time and her environmental activism activities. She offers an interesting perspective on environmental issues, emphasizing how interconnected every part of the world is to the other, how protecting the Arctic benefits all, and makes climate change into a human issue, rather than one focussed on fauna and geological features. The "right to be cold" means that climate change posits a threat to Inuit livelihoods and culture as they can no longer rely on the ice for hunting and transportation, and face challenges in transmitting traditional knowledge.

I learnt a lot reading her memoir and it gave me some new perspective on environmental issues, which can impact people in more ways than I'd initially imagine. Sheila also remains incredibly positive in her book, even when she acknowledges low moment or periods in her professional and personal life. This positivity was pretty refreshing as I often feel despair whenever I hear about politics.

The only issue I have with the book is that it has too many details. Most details are interesting and contribute to showcase her casual observations and the developing of her ideas, but there are just way too many. There are so many that I sometimes lost sight of the bigger picture or got a bit discouraged when reading.
Profile Image for Mj.
513 reviews67 followers
January 12, 2018
The full title tells much of the story - The Right to be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet. It was a huge undertaking - not just writing the book but what the author Sheila Watt-Cloutier has attempted to achieve with her global activism.

The book is difficult to review because it reads like a hybrid - part memoir and part well researched non-fiction. It is a memoir because Watt-Cloutier tells us in her own word a story about her life. I quite liked how she weaved her own beliefs and personal herstory into discussions about her public work. I thought this made the book much more readable. I got a real sense about Watt-Cloutier as a person and this made me want to read more about her work and to value her contribution even more. It cannot be easy to write about one’s own accomplishments without sounding a bit pompous. However, by sharing her vulnerability, her concerns, and her troubles, all of herself with the readers, at no time did Watt-Cloutier come across as the least bit pretentious or full-of-herself. I really enjoyed the personal elements (was not expecting it was going to read like a memoir) but liked how Watt-Cloutier ties in the issues she's writing about with her memories and heritage.

I also enjoyed her overall holistic approach tying everything together - demonstrating how each decision even if impacting only one aspect of life, even if only in a tiny part of the globe, influences the whole globe. “She speaks with passion and urgency on the issues of today—the environment, the economy, foreign policy, global health, and sustainability—not as separate concerns, but as a deeply interconnected whole. At a time when people are seeking solutions, direction, and a sense of hope, this global leader provides a big picture of where we are and where we’re headed.”

The above quote is an excerpt from Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s Speakers’ Website describing her speaker services as an Environmental, Cultural and Global Rights Advocate and she takes the same holistic, big picture approach in her writing of this book. https://www.speakers.ca/speakers/shei...

It became clear while reading the book that delivering a message to generate others’ activism was of primary importance to Watt-Cloutier. This is one reason why I feel the book reads like a non-fiction. The author outlined in a detached manner, a detailed chronological description of the author’s public jobs and accomplishments. In every event, Watt-Cloutier provided significant background of the group(s) hosting, holding and attending various events. Just the amount of names of groups and anachronisms (when used after the full name had been used once), gives the reader a real sense of the complexity of global politics and the numerous levels and degree of bureaucracy Watt-Cloutier had to deal with. It is surprising that anything gets accomplished and how long building consensus takes to effect real change. Some reviewers have been critical of too much detail. I appreciated the detail as I found it added additional credence to the work Watt-Cloutier does and gave me an even greater respect for anyone in the global arena that is able to bring people together to find a common resolution to any global issue.

It was the same thing with Watt-Cloutier’s detailing of everyone on the various staffs and teams she worked with. It became evident that it was important for her to give credit to others. She painstakingly included everyone’s names and credentials. Some may have found it boring but I felt it provided more insight into Watt-Cloutier’s character and style of gaining consensus. There is a lot a reader can learn from someone who operates in such a collaborative style and is so generous in her recognition of others. I did not perceive it to be name-dropping as some reviewers have noted, but rather a sincere desire to acknowledge and thank others for their contributions.

I particularly liked the chapter on Watt-Cloutier’s self-reflection and her comments about regrounding herself regularly with her Inuit food, friends and family after travelling around the world and speaking and advocating regularly to numerous groups. It is surprising how much Watt-Cloutier accomplished by working with strangers - especially after her admission of being introverted and initially terrified of speaking for the first time at a small office meeting. She came so far and accomplished so much. She was clearly a driven woman, motivated by a strong goal.

Watt-Cloutier writes that she was raised in an environment of strong and independent women - great role models for surviving and thriving. Their inspiration no doubt contributed to her growth as a person and advocate who grew significantly by overcoming her fears and accomplishing so much.

Watt-Clouiter’s The Right to be Cold is well worth reading. Her message about global warming is extremely timely and important - the need to act before it is too late. She is a well-deserved recipient of numerous honours - Officer, Order of Canada, Nobel Prize Nominee, Norwegian Sophie Award recipient and The Right Livelihood Award recipient among others. Stopping global warming is clearly her life's mission and passion and I would recommend that most Canadians and others around the world interested in this cause and stopping the negative impacts of global warming should read this book.

3 1/2 stars rounded up to 4 stars
Profile Image for Bre F.
73 reviews11 followers
April 26, 2020
Amazing take on how climate change is disproportionately affecting communities in the Arctic. This made me relearn what I knew about climate change in the north, about how cultures and people are suffering.
Profile Image for tcPrice.
1 review
January 13, 2018
For a book that is classified as a 'memoir' it is bogged down with useless data. Aside from the important content regarding indigenous affairs, and climate change, the author comes across as someone confused about their purpose for writing this book. In this sense, either the author was too lazy to write the book in an academic non-fiction format, or she simply wanted to inject her (biased and subjective) experiences into the read (as you would expect with a memoir).

In much of the author's earlier experiences while working with students in the school board, you really must read between the lines to see what information is intentionally left out. Although the author admits to having left the board on bad terms, you must also recognize that these people that no longer respected the author, are also Inuit people. It is here that you begin to suspect that there is more than the author is sharing, and that what she is writing, is to simply get back at those who disagreed with her. The idea that the author intentionally omitted important parts of this relationship is clear and that she strategically framed her arguments with political buzz. This is confirmed when she changed her mandate from education to climate, and where you begin to see the 'strategies' used for her personal interests. The author confirmed that she was employing strategies when she wrote "He understood the strategy behind making climate change a human rights issue and was an ideal person to moderate the panel" (Chapter 7: The Right to Be Cold).

Considering the book spans more than 50-years, you see the later economic, social policy, and program development initiatives that frame the writing of the earlier years. Specifically, you see the strategy to stand on human rights legal frameworks and the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada" report and its mandate within her arguments. It is worth noting that the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms" was enshrined into the Constitution in 1982, which among other important factors, recognizes "Aboriginal Rights" in section 35, "fundamental freedoms" in section 2, and so forth.

As a reader, with a masters in public policy, administration, and law, this book fails to deliver on the important public administration, policy and law (programs) that the author attempts to stand on for her arguments. The author applies biased Inuit perspectives to the important work of other organizations, calling it synergy, when it is clearly fraught with conflicting agendas. In my perspective, I believe her lens is too overwhelmed with the Inuit challenges, and by her stating that it begins with the Arctic, only serves to illustrate this way of thinking. As a policy person, you become very suspect with the missing gaps of information that are clearly omitted for argument sake. Perhaps, this is why the author chose to classify her book as a memoir, but then injects a lot of her public administration experiences into what first begins as an authentic indigenous human rights plight.

As someone educated in Human Rights, and later Public Administration, Policy and Law, I was eager to read her memoir. Unfortunately, I was disappointed... but as the saying goes.. you "don't throw out the baby with the bath water".... and, since the author is big on maternal affairs, it seems worth repeating here, as there are some great authentic 'memoir' experiences written in this book. For that, I am grateful to the author for having shared those very personal experiences.
Profile Image for Jessica.
362 reviews4 followers
December 23, 2018
It took me more than six months and still, I have not (and now decided not to) finish this book.

I had high hopes for this book: the premise sounds interesting and the subject matter is right up my alley; however, the book fails in its delivery. Watt-Cloutier writes in a very repetitive format and of many frivolous details, which I noticed seems to be the style of many First Nation writers'. Unfortunately, the way she tells her stories just doesn't capture my imagination, The last third of the book is full of political details and statistics that I'm not certain of their relevance. It makes this book very difficult to digest.

I give this book 1.5 stars.
Profile Image for The Book Girl.
780 reviews36 followers
April 29, 2018

Wow, that was a read. It was a textbook of information. I am giving this one three stars because it was so overwhelming with details and facts. I love nonfiction books but I am just a general reader. I don't need a dissertation on climate change. Yes, I realize this is a controversial topic. I will not be speaking on that.

The Right To Be Cold is Sheila Watt-Clouier is a biography that is packed with details about her life's work to protect the Inuit culture and the Arctic. She is such an inspiration and such a powerful woman. I am in awe of her talent, work,, and just overall bad ass personality.

In this book, she shares her story about growing up in a place called Nunavik. She was lucky enough to learn her people's culture, traditions, and way of life. From hunting to surviving the harshest of climates. Their igloos were stronger than most peoples tents and offered valuable protection from predators as well as from the bad weather.

We learn that she was sent to the south for education and got exposed to our modern western world. This caused her to lose some of her culture and most of her fluency with her native language. When she decided to return to her Arctic home she decided to become involved in programs, especially in education. She saw how the western world was destroying her people's culture and causing a spike in suicides and other various addictions.

This caused Shelia to become an activist. First in education, then in cultural preservation, and now in climate change and environmental destruction. The use of fossil fuels is melting our Arctic and this means her people are having their way of life destroyed. The animals they depend on are starving to death, and the land they live on is slowly crumbling.

I found this book to be overwhelming and quite hard to read. I enjoyed the chapters of Sheila's childhood the most. I enjoyed learning more about native culture and traditions. I enjoyed learning more about climate change. I just wish the book wasn't quite as dry as it was.

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. All thoughts are my own and do not reflect this fact.
Profile Image for Sam.
170 reviews
July 11, 2015
The Arctic is the world's air conditioner. But the Arctic is seeing warming rates at double the rest of the globe. It is much more than the environment at risk; the culture of an entire people group, the Inuk of the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Russia, and the United States is on the verge of disappearing along with the ice and snow they have lived in unison with for centuries. And the melting causes rising sea levels, which is affecting the survival of indigenous peoples even as far away as remote Pacific Islands who are seeing their homes being devoured by the sea.

This autobiography of an Inuk woman's rise to fame as a champion of Arctic preservation is more than just dry statistics; she shares her own personal cultural and family struggles entwined with the desire to preserve the future of her grandchildren and ultimately of humanity by fighting for change to the way humans "do business". In true Inuk spirit, the land, the wildlife, and the people are all interdependent upon each other; when one hurts, they all hurt. The land, wildlife, and people of the people are scarred and in need of healing and return to a strong and healthy relationship.

At times the book can get depressing as she covers historical facts that are not palatable, but in the end the author leaves us with a better understanding of Inuk issues; issues which are in reality a barometer of the rest of the world and gives us hope that if we return to a respect for nature and examine how we live our own lives, we can leave a brighter future for our descendants and the for the planet as a whole.

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