The recipient of the Award in 2019 will be Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an internationally-recognized environmental, cultural and human rights advocate for almost 25 years. Drawing attention to the impacts of climate change that people in the Arctic have been experiencing first-hand, she has identified Inuit people as “sentinels” to the rest of the world on this issue.
Born and raised traditionally in an Inuit community in Nunavik, Quebec, at age ten Watt-Cloutier was sent to schools in southern Canada and Churchill, Manitoba; later she studied counselling, education and human development through McGill University. Watt-Cloutier was President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Canada for two terms (1995 to 2001) and elected the ICC’s International Chair in 2002. Representing the 155,000 Inuit of Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia, she was instrumental in the global negotiations leading to the 2001 Stockholm Convention that banned the generation and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) contaminating the Arctic food web. In 2005 she filed a legal petition through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging the violation of Inuit human rights by practices contributing to climate change. This was the first international human rights legal action ever advanced on the basis of climate change.
A 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Watt-Cloutier is the recipient of many awards including Aboriginal Achievement Award (2004), the Norwegian Sophie Award (2005), the International Environmental Leadership Award (2006), the Mahbub ul Haq UN Human Development Award (2007), and the 2015 Swedish Right Livelihood Award (considered the alternate Nobel Prize). She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has received twenty honorary doctorates. She is the author of the book The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet, which was nominated for the 2016 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. In 2017, the book was shortlisted for CBC Canada Reads and the Kobo Emerging Writer prize. Watt-Cloutier is a Commissioner on Aspen Institute’s Commission on Arctic Climate Change and teaches courses on the Human Dimension of Climate Change at Bowden College, Maine, and Mount Allison University, New Brunswick.
Watt-Cloutier was witnessing the impacts of climate change on human life, culture, economy and the environment in Arctic communities long before the rest of the world began debating them. She has made connections with actions – and inactions – in other parts of the world and identified how climate change threatens Inuit human rights. Her unique life experiences have given her a prophetic perspective and opportunities to offer global leadership. Communicating clearly, passionately and with hope, she persistently challenges the rest of the world to see beyond boundaries of nations and cultures and disciplines, and to make decisions in the best interests of all creation.
As Sheila says,“I remind the world that the Arctic is not a barren land devoid of life but a rich and majestic land that has supported our resilient culture for millennia. Even though we are small in number and living far from the corridors of power, it appears that the wisdom of the land strikes a universal chord on a planet where many are searching for sustainability.”
The Dr. E.H. Johnson Memorial Fund was established in 1981 to continue The Rev. Dr. Edward “Ted” Hewlitt Johnson’s commitment to a global view of mission and to extend the horizons of that mission. He lived his view of and commitment to mission through service with his wife Kitty as missionaries of The Presbyterian Church in Canada in Manchuria and as Secretary for Overseas Missions. He also became involved in ecumenical agencies covering many aspects of mission. When Dr. Johnson was elected Moderator of the 95th General Assembly, mission in all its variety and aspects marked his service in that office.
What is “Cutting-Edge Mission”?
Read more about “the cutting-edge of mission” in this Presbyterian Connection newspaper article (Fall 2017) by the Rev. Glynis Williams, Associate Secretary, International Missions.