RTOERO video Advocacy

7 quotes from Sheila Watt-Cloutier to open your mind

Environmental, cultural, human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier spoke to RTOERO members during a member webinar in January 2023. Sheila challenged the audience to re-imagining a new way forward with intention. Through stories and facts, she emphasized the interconnected nature of all existence.

We selected seven significant statements from her talk to share with you. These quotations could be used as prompts for reflective journal writing or perhaps as discussion starters for a group. Watch our video with all clips together, or find the transcribed quotations below.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier quotes to reflect on

On the impact of colonialism on Inuit life and culture

“In the 1920s, we were still out on the land, we were still very much connected to just daily in pursuit of the animals that we hunt for our food. But then almost overnight, we became fur trappers to meet the global markets for fur in those days. And that was the beginning of a shift of a way of life that happened almost overnight. Our spiritual practices were taken away. Our drum dancing. Our throat singing. The shamanism. All the very powerful spiritual practices that we had. Religion came in and took all of that away as taboo. And so that was the beginning of the breakdown of our own Inuit strength and society.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On the interrelationship of life on Earth

“In the 1980s, we realized that toxins coming from afar through the weather patterns were starting to poison our country food. Not of our doing, but from very far sources of by-products of industry and pesticides were making their way through the weather patterns and when they deposited in the Arctic and the Arctic sink, it was too cold to go back up in the air and move on somewhere else. So, the bioaccumulated in really high concentrations in the water where our marine mammals live. We are great eaters and hunters of marine animals because of the high nutritional value…and so the nursing milk of our mothers were laden of these toxins.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On the impact of climate change

“That’s why we defended so staunchly our right to be cold. The human rights aspect really plays into this very strongly because it really is about changing the way we are as Inuit. Our right to health, our right to education, our right to safety, security. All of the rights that are already entrenched in international law, were being minimized as a result of climatic change and environmental degradation…”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On reclamation of culture, self-determination, healing

“The land and culture offer more solutions, I think, than most institutions can. And, as I say, cultures are medicine, and I believe strongly that Indigenous wisdom is the medicine the world seeks in addressing these issues of sustainability… Rather than seeing us as victims to globalization and to pollution and to climate change, that we can become the teachers if given the opportunities of respect and equality and equity on every front.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On the impact of the pandemic and hope

“What the pandemic I think has done is broken open more widely the unresolved issues of racism, and social injustices, not just in Indigenous communities, but in the Black communities as well. And we cannot be blaming just one country or one virus for what’s happened to us because there will be more driven by climatic changes. It is more about what we have been doing for decades upon decades to the habitat of all wildlife in the world. And we need to be thinking bigger in terms of what we need to do as a common humanity?”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On leadership

“Leadership to me means never to lose sight of the fact that the issues at hand are so much bigger than oneself. And leadership is about working from a principled and ethical place within oneself, and it is to model authentically and genuinely for others a sense of calm, a sense of clarity and a sense of focus. Leadership is to always check inwards. To ensure one is leading from a position of strength, not fear or victimhood, so one does not project one’s own limitations onto those you are modelling possibilities for.”

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

On our roles

“Once you know this information about the north, Inuit and how we all connect, don’t be on a mission to save us. That is the root cause of the problems that we face is that we were given no sense of our own wisdom to deal with the issues at hand and that we were not given the voice to be able to address these issues from our perspectives. That we were overly controlled and that we were oppressed and suppressed. So being on a mission to save us is not the answer…what I say is start with self.” 

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s presentation was part of our Vibrant Voices webinar series, which focuses on our key advocacy issues. Environmental stewardship is an advocacy priority for RTOERO.

Are you an RTOERO member? Access to exclusive learning opportunities is one of the benefits of membership. If you work or worked in any capacity in the education sector in Canada, you can join us. Your membership is free until you retire.