The Right to be Cold, by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

The Right to be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet, by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Published by Penguin Canada, 1st March 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, autobiography, memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed (library book)

Trigger warnings: substance abuse, suicide

Synopsis

The Arctic ice sheet is melting. Polar bears and other Arctic animals are losing their habitat and their lives. But what of the people who call these cold polar regions home? They are also losing their homes, their livelihoods, and the land which has sustained their way of life for centuries. And yet, nobody is talking about them or their plight. Or indeed the fact that their plight will be shared by the rest of the world if we do not take a stand on global warming.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier is someone who has dedicated her life to bringing these issues to the global stage. As an Inuk, born and raised in the cold Arctic, she knows better than most the struggles that the indigenous Arctic communities have faced, ever since the missionaries first arrived on their shores. But those struggles pale in comparison to what they are now facing. Loss of sea ice and hunting grounds, collapsing buildings and roads due to melting permafrost, health issues caused by invisible pollutants, and many more.

“When you can’t find good snow in the Arctic for shelter, something is definitely wrong”

My thoughts

What a fascinating book! I love when I can learn about a new culture through the books that I read, and this was definitely no exception. It was so interesting to learn about the Inuit culture, about their hunting traditions and the food they eat, about the wisdom shared by their elders, throat singing and crafts. This book also sheds light on the very serious issues affecting the Inuit communities throughout the Arctic area.

I didn’t know about a lot of these issues. About the pollutants which are affecting their health in serious ways, but that have come from countries thousands of miles away, due to climate change. About the serious threat to their way of life and their very culture posed by the loss of the sea ice and rising temperatures. Sheila Watt-Cloutier writes so evocatively about her culture and the community that she loves. Not only was it so interesting to learn about these issues, but I believe hers is an important voice. A female indigenous voice in the climate change debate! There are not many of them that’s for sure and it was so empowering to read her words.

Unfortunately, it was also sometimes difficult to connect with her message. There is a lot of bureaucratic language throughout, as well as many complicated and confusing acronyms, which made it hard to follow. I understand that this is a world of councils and the many branches of the UN and other departments, but for the uninitiated, it is difficult to wade through all of the acronyms.

In spite of this, I would still readily recommend this book to anyone who is interested in climate change and who would be interested to learn about the Inuit perspective.

My rating: 4/5

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