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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

The Right to Be Cold: A revelatory memoir that looks at what climate change means for the north

Published in The Globe and Mail

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is one of the most widely respected political figures to emerge from Canada’s Arctic, and this potential was identified early on. When she was just 10 years old, she and her friend Lizzie were selected as promising future Inuit leaders and sent to live with a white family in the tiny coastal community of Blanche, N.S. Having grown up in Nunavik, Que., on dog sleds and in canoes, the young Watt-Cloutier loved new experiences and approached the long voyage south in the spirit of adventure.

The girls were in for what Watt-Cloutier now describes as a “brutal shock.”

They were assigned to the home of a family named Ross, headed by a man with a nasty temper. Watt-Cloutier missed her family terribly and longed to return to her “Arctic childhood of ice and snow.” Raised on seal and whale meat, she pined for “country food,” as Northern game is known, and found the fresh peas and “tumblers full” of cow’s milk at the Rosses’ to be “revolting.”

Sheila and Lizzie dutifully dressed in prim outfits and completed their schoolwork – but they also expressed their intense homesickness in “anguished letters” to family. The ones Lizzie wrote to her sister simply said: “I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.”

In one of the most unsettling passages in The Right to Be Cold, Watt-Cloutier describes discovering all of these intimate expressions “opened and spread out on the dining-room table.” They would not be sent, the girls were informed, and from now on, all of their letters would be vetted by the Rosses.

The impact of this early violation of privacy was profound. “It took me a long, long time after that experience to feel comfortable or even able to express myself, my thoughts and my feelings. In one simple act, the Rosses helped to weaken my voice for years to come.”

The loss, suppression and ultimate rediscovery of voice are themes that run through this courageous and revelatory memoir, which spans from Watt-Cloutier’s earliest childhood at communal feasts in Old Fort Chimo; to go-go dancing at a residential school in Churchill, Man.; to rising within the ranks of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the non-governmental body representing the interests of Inuit people living in four Arctic nations; to eventually becoming such a powerful advocate for Inuit rights at United Nations climate-change negotiations that she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Read the rest of the article in The Globe and Mail




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