I didn’t buy the book at Wordfest 2015. I was short on money at the time. So, what’s new?
I was pretty excited as I drove out to Mount Royal University that day! I was going to be meeting up with my sister-in-law, Karen. She had driven into town to enjoy some of the Wordfest events and because of her extensive time in the north, she was more than familiar with the topics of this particular book. She had worked with our neighbours to the north. She had lived with our neighbours to the north. She held a wealth of knowledge within her, but stuff that we had never really made opportunity to speak about. I, on the other hand, was dumber than door nails about the challenges of the north. Like most Canadians, living in the south, we don’t know about what we don’t see. Out of sight-out of mind. It’s shameful, really. I feel shame.
Today, however, as part and parcel of my own journey of truth, I feel I have had a very generous introduction to the topic through the book, The Right to be Cold, and can now build upon knowledge that exists within me, however scant that knowledge might be. If the Globe and Mail can refer to this book as ‘revelatory’, so can I! And it was! To gain any insights about the wrongs of the past and sadly, the present, is to liberate ones self. It is only in educating myself about these mistakes that I can go forward to make change happen within me and in the outside world.
Mount Royal always stumps me, in terms of locating absolutely anything. It isn’t as simple as the posted maps convey. I wandered for quite some time before coming upon the theater where Sheila Watt-Cloutier would be speaking. The people who gathered seemed casual and friendly, calling out to one another. It turns out that some people were connected through the story and through the north. I felt like a blank slate…pretty excited. When Karen settled in next to me, she quietly told me about some of the people in the room. Embraces were shared.
I want my readers to read this book. There are chapters within these pages that overwhelm the reader with unfamiliar acronyms (NGO, POP, ICC, KSB, INC, CAIPAP, UNEP and so on…), but if possible, move beyond these to understand the huge complexities faced by our northern neighbours as they work tirelessly to advocate for safety and health for their families and future generations. Also, pay close attention to the work that has been happening in the past…the voices that have reached out desperately on behalf of human beings, voices that, like the author’s, spoke always from the heart and out of concern for the other.
I can not imagine what it would be like to be so impacted by colonization, industry, and ignorance that my identity, culture and even the health of the foods I ate were at risk. There is a dark history in our country. And while it seems too late to be educated and make a difference, we have no choice. For the Inuit people to lose their way of life is for us to lose what is distinct about our Nation. I grieve. I grieve because while I am typing these sentences, years have gone by since the writing of Watt-Cloutier’s book…and the exponential loss of the ice is going on at this very moment.
The Right to be Cold is written in the memoir genre, a form of writing that consistently appeals to me. I found the narratives about Sheila’s early years very powerful. As my readers know me fairly well, there were tears in many places. Yes, at times, I had to put the book down. The writer does not, however, write from a place of victim. In fact, I think it is important to her that we not place the story of the north in the context of a victimized people. Instead, she speaks from a place of strength and hard work and strong belief.
I was blessed, a short while ago, to attend an exhibit at the Glenbow Museum titled North of Ordinary: The Arctic Photographs of Geraldine and Douglas Moodie. Those photographs did for me what Sheila Watt-Cloutier did with words. We have sacrificed much by not caring for the north…the ice and snow…and the animals and people who needed to be heard. In fact, sometimes I think that we, as people of the south, cared more for the animals of the north than the people. And…isn’t that just crazy?
There was a bench where I could sit down. I felt the breath knocked out of me. I felt the truth, like a blow to my gut. I compared the images captured by the Moodies with the current news stories published about the north…suicides among the youth, housing crisis and melting ice. It wasn’t many years ago that I heard a teacher who had worked up at Cross Lake, Manitoba say something like…”I don’t get why, when there is fresh fish to be caught, that the people would go pay such huge prices and buy processed fish sticks from the store?” Read this book!
When I was a little girl sitting in a DND school, I learned about the ‘Eskimos’. I drew pictures of igloos and harpooning. But, I was given no context. Along the way, I was given nothing. I guess the most magical truth that I received was from my father who had a thirteen month long period away from home. We lived in Ste. Sylvestre, in Quebec, at the time. It was in the late 1950s. My father brought us stories and experiences. Apart from that, I knew nothing about the north.
Studio portraits, above, taken by the Moodies.
We have stolen a pristine and health-filled life from the people of the north. We have tried to take away all of their traditions, culture and ways of being.
Photos taken by my father’s old camera…
I’ve poured myself another coffee…never really got writing about Sheila’s talk that morning at Mount Royal. She was inspiring. She was light-hearted. She was serious. Sheila has impacted me and opened up my heart, with the writing of this book. As an author, she has connected me to the narrative that is our north country and to the fine citizens that have made the north their home over time and forever.
I was grateful to Wordfest for hosting Sheila and I was grateful to have my sister-friend, Karen, sitting next to me. Here is a little capture of Karen alongside her longtime friend, Sally Luttmer.
….okay, well, I just had a long Skype session with Karen and thank goodness because the writing of this post had become very difficult. I’ve settled…deciding to conclude this post with a quote and a short thought of my own.
“Everything is connected. Connectivity is going to be the key to addressing these issues, like contaminants and climate change. They’re not just about contaminants on your plate. They’re not just about the ice depleting. They’re about the issue of humanity. What we do every day – whether you live in Mexico, the United States, Russia, China … can have a very negative impact on an entire way of life for an entire people far away from that source.” Sheila Watt-Cloutier
I’m going to end with an image.
On August 26, 2017 my grandson, Steven, came into this world. It is a powerful and natural thing that he breast feeds and that his Mommy, for now, is his whole world. It should be that this is the very safest place for my grandson to be, and it is. Imagine, then, the sad fact that in the north, this generous and natural relationship should be, in fact, dangerous to the infant population, in that country foods have, over generations, been tainted with POPs at a level far greater than we can know or understand. The peoples living in the north are struggling for their children and their children’s children. We must contribute to their hope and to their futures. We must be a strong force, where we can, in their right to be cold!
Book discussion happened with Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI Chapters and Chat. Photographs below credited to Michelle Robinson…woman who has opened my eyes to more than you know!