This I believe. Words from Sheila Watt-Cloutier

O.K. if you happen to be a UBCer, then please do check out our next speaker, Sheila Watt-Cloutier who will be in Vancouver on February 29th. Details for the talk are presented here, but better yet sign up and invite away on the Facebook group.

Anyway, I noticed she had a segment for CBC’s “This I believe”, so I thought it would be cool to present it here, so that you get a bit of a preview of what she’s all about.

You can listen to the segment here, but I’ve also reprinted it below for your reading leisure.

(Source: CBC, “This I Believe” originally aired on May 23rd, 2007 – link)

The Strength to Go Forward

I believe that how we deal with the losses in our lives can help us realize our potential as human beings. Everything that happens to us is interconnected — with other people, with nature and with each stage of our journey through life.

For most of the first ten years of my life my family and I travelled near our Arctic home by dog team. I bonded with the ice, snow and cold during those journeys just as I bonded with my family and community. The bounty from the ice and snow represented life and nurturance to me in the best of ways. At the end of a day of hunting and fishing there was always a delicious meal prepared from the land and sea.

Government officials thought I had potential and convinced my family to send me to school in the south at this early age of ten. I lost a large part of my language and culture and through my own family the chance to learn all the lessons that my rich traditional way of life would have taught me.

As a young adult I returned to the Arctic. And over time I began rebuilding my connection with my roots through my community work and later on global environmental issues. I knew from my early childhood that we are irrefutably connected to nature. And I came to learn and believe that the dramatic changes in the Arctic environment are an early warning for the rest of the world. And as these changes affect the every day lives of people living in the Arctic now, so too will they affect lives in southern climates in profound ways very soon.

It was a second cycle of loss in my adult life that made me see how much I needed the skills I had missed acquiring as a teenager in order to live my life to its fullest potential. My life defining and greatest personal test started in February 1999 when my beloved and only sister died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 48. My entire world stopped. For a very long time I could not let her go. Over the next five consecutive years, still grieving deeply over her death, life continued to test my resolve. I lost four more close family members — my Aunt, my mother, a young cousin and a young niece. I thought I would never stop grieving. I wept literally for years — in foreign countries, in strange hotels, in airports — whenever the waves of sadness would overcome me.

In those places of deep grief I deepened my personal journey. Each loss held me in a place I needed to be until I gained insight and clarity. I could eventually translate my new perspectives into powerful opportunities for personal change and growth. I came to see in a vivid way that all things are interconnected and that all things happen for a greater cause. I came to know trust in the life process. I came to know courage, tenacity and commitment. I needed these character skills in order to survive my grief. As it turned out, I also needed them to strengthen and raise the volume of my own voice on the global stage. There were many times I thought I could not carry on. But I learned that true commitment really begins when we reach a point of not knowing how we can possibly go on — and then somehow find the strength to go on anyway.

I used my commitment and the potent lessons I learned to pioneer the work of connecting climate change to human rights on the global stage. I now honour my losses by turning the energy of dealing with loss to protection — protection of this wise hunting culture upon which I began my life with my small and close knit family. And trust me when I say, this work requires much trust, boldness, courage and commitment.

For This I Believe, I’m Sheila Watt-Cloutier in the Canadian Arctic.

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David (@ng_dave) is Faculty at the Michael Smith Labs. His writing has appeared in places such as McSweeney's, The Walrus, and He plans on using Terry as another place to highlight the mostly science-y links he appreciates. In fact, if you liked this one, you might also like his main site generally - this can be found at