The Sophie Prize 2005:
The Jury's Decision

The Inuit leader and advocate for her people and the environment

Ms  Sheila Watt-Cloutier

is the winner of the Sophie Prize 2005

The state of the world´s environment is deeply worrying and calls for immediate action.The Sophie Prize 2005 is thus awarded to Ms Watt-Cloutier for her tireless  effort to draw the world´s attention to the devastating human effects of climate change and emissions of toxic chemicals. As Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference she has given a human face and a human right´s  perspective to the destruction of the environment. The entoxified environment and rapidly melting ice in polar areas not only impact  eco-systems, but also individuals and the Inuit culture itself.  “The Arctic is the world’s barometer of climate change. We are the early warning system for the world”. She adds: “What is happening to us now will happen to others further south in years to come.” As the recently concluded Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) concludes, the Arctic and its peoples are at great risk as a result of global climate change.

In 2001 she was instrumental in persuading nations of the need for a convention  to eliminate toxic chemicals (POPs). She is now petitioning the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that destruction of the Inuit way of life as a result of emission of greenhouse gases by the United States is a violation of the collective rights of Inuit.

Recent research shows a shockingly rapid melting of the ice in the Arctic. The Arctic Climate Change Impact Assessment (ACIA) published last year, states that the Arctic will experience severe and devastating climatic changes in the coming years. These changes that are already visible and felt in the Arctic will also affect the rest of the world ecologically, socially and economically within  the coming 100 years. What is happening in the Arctic will have global impact.

Ms  Sheila Watt-Cloutier has for the last 10 years been one of the most prominent leaders of Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) representing internationally the 155.000 Inuit resident in Canada, the USA, Greenland and Russia. Expressing the concerns of the Inuit people, she shows that the Inuit are a vibrant indigenous people that still draws heavily on the traditional ecological wisdom of their elders  and depends directly on a careful management of nature. But facing the rapid changes in their environment there is a deep worry that the Inuit way of life itself is at peril. In her words: “We are pressing the world to understand what is going on in the Arctic.”

Watt-Cloutier played a prominent role during the negotiations leading up to and during the Global Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants in the late 1990s. In 2001 the agreement to eliminate pollutants, including DDT and PCBs, was signed in Stockholm. She managed to show the world how these pollutants affect the Arctic region. The poisons accumulate in the food web. Inuit ingest these contaminants by eating the animals they hunt and pass contaminants to the unborn through the placenta and to infants in breast milk.“We are being poisoned” and  “ A poisoned Inuk child, a poisoned Arctic and a poisoned planet are all one and the same “ is her powerful message.

She has intervened actively in the negotiations on the Climate Convention, bringing in the human and community-centered perspectives and consequences of climate change. Based on sound scientific documentation and daily experiences of the Inuit people she sounds a clear warning signal to the world. .“We are already living this reality, it´s not a theory in the future, it´s right now in the present”. The seas of the Arctic regulate the world´s climate. The polar region is a “barometer” that measures the state of the world´s environment.

She and her people are concerned for the state of the world and are committed internationally to protect it. She bridges the perspectives and views of Arctic residents and  people from the vulnerable and poor countries and small island states showing how they are all threatened by rising temperature and seas. And this environmental distortion is not caused by them, but by rich countries and they must be held accountable.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference is soon to petition the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking a declaration that destruction of the Inuit way of life, as projected by the ACIA, as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from the United States in particular, amounts to a violation of the collective human rights of Inuit. Ms. Watt-Cloutier wants the commission to visit the Arctic so that commissioners can find out for themselves what climate change means to Inuit.

About the Prize winner

Ms Watt-Cloutier was born 1953 in Nunavik (Northern Quebec) and was raised traditionally. She has a strong commitment to improving education and health in aboriginal communities. She is equally concerned about nurturing traditional wisdom. In 1995 she entered politics and quickly rose to become one of the most prominent political spokespersons for the Inuit. After becoming elected President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) in Canada in 1995, she was elected Chair of the ICC in 2002. In these capacities she has been forefront of the struggle to protect the Arctic and the world´s environment. In 2005 she has been appointed to the Canadian Roundtable on Environment and Economy, that is to guide Canada in its commitments to the follow-up of the Kyoto agreements. 

Jury prize awarding grounds

The jury of the Sophie Prize has decided to grant the Sophie Prize 2005 to Ms Sheila Watt-Cloutier on account of her environmental leadership of global importance through: 

  • putting  the Arctic and its people on the global map as a region that “connects us all” as a “barometer” of environmental health 
  • demonstrating the need for vulnerable regions of the world to work together to combat climate change and environmental degradation
  • her ongoing efforts to make states accountable for their emissions of CO2, giving a human face to the effects of climate change
  • her successful contribution to international efforts to future elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants through the 2001 Stockholm Convention
  • her efforts to demonstrate the link between environmental destruction and violation of human rights
  • showing the importance of respecting and nurturing traditional wisdom in the effort to manage and protect the Earth
  • building a bridge between the Western scientific rationalism and the aboriginal worldview
  • stressing the need for strong and binding international agreements to commit nations to act now