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Nobel Peace Prize nominee opens indigenous women’s gathering in Yellowknife

Yellowknife, NWT – Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has opened the first-ever Indigenous Circumpolar Women’s Gathering in Yellowknife.

Watt-Cloutier, who rose to prominence highlighting the effects of social and environmental change on Inuit people, told delegates her life’s work came “from the perspective of a mother and a grandmother who felt very strongly about these issues”.

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee launched a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005, alleging that exposure to greenhouse gases from the United States violated Inuit human rights.

“That work was about looking at the future for our people,” she said.

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“Our children are already going through enormous struggles and challenges as a result of the historical traumas we have gone through as communities, and the changes happening in our world, so, so quickly, which have really negatively impacted the statistics we see today.

“Why is it we would have the highest suicide rates in North America? Why is there a lot of violence and abuse that goes on when, in our lifetimes, we can remember a time when that was not the case?

“Making climate change a human rights issue, for me, was an important way in which to proceed, to get the world to understand that climate change is not just about Arctic ice, polar bears and furry animals.

“Those are all interconnected to our culture and way of life but for us – for me, leading that campaign – it is really about what is lost on that ice. This is much more than the depletion of ice or possible extinctions. It’s really about a people trying to make it in this new world order of globalization.”

The 60-year-old stepped in at short notice after planned speaker Mary Simon – the former national Inuit leader – withdrew through sickness.

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Speaking at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Watt-Cloutier added: “In a world often led by men – and this is not about male-bashing – we are often outnumbered, whether that’s at regional, national or international level. That has certainly been the case for me.

“The achievements and successes I would receive, came about because I remained true to myself as a woman.”

The three-day gathering includes sessions on internet activism, safeguarding cultural traditions, promoting female leaders, indigenous women in politics, and the fight to end violence against women.

“The power of women is amazing, and there is a lot of power sitting here,” said elder Shirley Adamson, from the Yukon Ta’an Kwach’an Council, addressing 60 delegates on Wednesday morning.

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