In The News: Watt-Cloutier lauds Arctic as oasis of peace (06.05.09)

Watt-Cloutier lauds Arctic as oasis of peace

Hunting teaches Inuit patience, other virtues


The Arctic is one of the last peaceful international regions in the world, Siila Watt-Cloutier said in her LaFontaine-Baldwin Lecture May 29 in Iqaluit.

And only "collaboration and co-operation - not competition and confrontation" - will keep it that way, she told a crowd of 400 that filled the Inukshuk High School gym to capacity.

Watt-Cloutier's address, entitled Returning Canada to a Path of Principle: an Arctic and Inuit Perspective, focused on a number of key points:

    slowing down climate change and keeping the Arctic ice is
    the best way to stop other nations from taking over the
    Northwest Passage;
    protection and sustainable stewardship of the land, culture
    and people of the Arctic must take precedence over the lure
    of quick economic gain through resource development;

    tools of cooperation, such as the Arctic Council, need to be
    strengthened and further developed; and

    Canada should push for a circumpolar treaty that gives
    special responsibility and leadership to indigenous peoples -
    including the Inuit - to work with nation states to manage
    oil, gas and other resource development in international

It is the ice that protects the northwest passage from overuse and from the competing interests of various nation states, she said.

Climate change and sovereignty are part of the same question.

In her detailed, near-hour-long address, Watt-Cloutier took southern Canadian and international listeners through the "tumultuous change and multiple historical traumas" that Inuit have faced since contact, and that were all too familiar to her immediate Iqaluit audience - forced relocations, residential schools, medical deportations, dog slaughter, sexual abuse, right up to climate change and the recent assaults on the Inuit sealing culture.

Those traumas have "knocked us off balance," she said, and the resulting collective pain has led to "substance abuse, health problems, and, most distressing, the loss of so many of our people to suicide."

But still the Inuit remain a resilient and adaptable people, she said, who, through their hunting culture are uniquely attached to the land and animals of the ice and snow.

"The process of the hunt teaches our young people to be patient, courageous, bold under pressure, and reflective."

"They learn to be focused and strategic and become natural conservationists. They learn to control their impulses, to withstand and cope with stressful situations, to develop sound judgment and ultimately wisdom, silaturniq in our language."

Those are the qualities, she asserted, that have allowed the Inuit to achieve continued successes, despite the trauma, even as they moved "from dog teams and igluvigaks (the Inuktitut term for snow house), to snowmobiles, jumbo jets, permanent homes, and even supermarkets, all within the past 50 years."

And she cited some of those successes: Jordin Tootoo in hockey; the Akitsiraq law program; business development including airlines and corresponding Inuit pilots; the international cultural success of artists, singers and film productions such as Atanarjuat and The Necessities of Life; nationally respected political leaders such as John Amagoalik, Mary Simon, Eva Aariak and Leona Agglukak.

Inuit have also taken a lead international role, she said, speaking from her own personal experience, in addressing environmental issues like persistent organic pollutants and climate change.

It has been her people's close relationship with the land and their commitment to democratic processes like negotiation, that have been so important in these struggles around environmental issues and northern development, both within Canada and in the larger circumpolar world.

If Canada is going to maintain sovereignty in the north and to regain a sense of leadership in the world - which it lost, she said, in turning its back on the Kyoto accord - it needs to find its own sense of leadership and principled values in a revitalized Inuit people.

"Thriving, human communities will speak more strongly to our Arctic sovereignty and Canada's national values than a fleet of armed ice breakers or barracks full of soldiers," she said.

courtesy of:

« Back