The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier


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.

Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 045Cell October 19, 2015 Bush Wordfest Thanksgiving 043

….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!



Have you ever seen a red bird?

That’s a question I asked Grade Two this morning and there were only three students who had seen Cardinals and they were delighted to tell their stories; two of the three had seen Cardinals on television.  The most interesting story was the one told by a wee boy about going on a trip to see Grampa and in the wilderness (his word) they saw four red birds.  I told the story of seeing Cardinals in Belleville, Ontario when I went there to visit my father.  Someone talked about those kind of birds having Mohawks on the top of their heads.  And then this guy came up.

Angry BirdsI’m going to tell you the truth…I found today’s idea on Pinterest.  YIPPEE!  Inspired by illustrator, Charlie Harper, many variations of this same activity can be found and managed, with, I hope, a focus on unique interpretations of the theme.  Here in Calgary, these children would not be as familiar with Cardinals as they would be with Northern Flickers and Magpies.  I think these activities could be suited for local birds as well. But today, I was into the red.

I wanted to manipulate the compositions to teach EMPHASIS and so the red was a pop of colour in an otherwise muted background.

Materials: Blue 18 x 24 construction paper with tooth.  White chalk for foggy fuzzy edges of background trees, White tempera, large bristle brushes, flat, two sheets of red poster board cut into small squares….two sheets enough for 23 students.

First, the students had depiction time.  I talked to them about how the Cardinals that we created were going to be like cartoons of birds.  Every single bird would look different depending on a lot of factors.  To begin with, we would practice drawing shapes…the body being a raindrop shape with the Cardinal’s Mohawk feathers on the top.  “Try big wide raindrop shapes and thin ones.  Try big and small.”  This little sketch was borrowed from one variation of this art lesson, found at Art On My Hand.

Angry Bird DepictionsThe eyes will be oogie boogie eyes that pop out past the bird’s body.  The legs…”Try long, short and bent. How can you make the bird look like it’s flying? How can we show wings? The beak is like a diamond shape and then just draw a line through the middle.”

Our drawing practice looked like this.

DSC_1459 DSC_1458 DSC_1457After sketching for a while and exploring all sorts of possibilities, out came the large blue paper.  I demonstrated how to press chalk and make dark lines and then showed how to move it and press on it to create light marks.  I touched the top of my paper and the bottom, on a vertical, to show how large the background trees needed to be.  I asked if any of the students had been outdoors recently when we had wind and snow and fog.  Lots of stories there! :0)  “What did the trees look like?”

“Our foreground tree…the one the closest to us…is more detailed.  We see more when something is close to us.  I can see your noses right now, but….when you are out on the playground, I can’t. We will paint the tree that’s close to us. What do we call a tree’s body? (trunk) What about its arms? Where are its legs? (limbs, branches? and their legs are underground) What about its fingers? toes? (It’s fingers are twigs. branches?) Expression and Composition time…with one short pause to remind the class not to SCRUB, but to STROKE. Here is what their trees looked like.  Off you go!  Recess!  PUT ON YOUR SNOW PANTS!

DSC_1447 DSC_1448Ti DSC_1449After recess, not much had to be said…a factory of Cardinal makers nested at their desks and the room was an industrious hush.  Absolutely amazing stuff as they created, invented, problem solved.  We all agreed that the tools we needed from the bins were scissors, glue sticks and thin black markers.  The fat ones were just too tricky.

This is what they created.

DSC_1463 ?????????? ?????????? DSC_1473 ?????????? DSC_1470 DSC_1469 DSC_1468 DSC_1467 DSC_1466 DSC_1465 DSC_1464


?????????? ?????????? ?????????? DSC_1479 ?????????? DSC_1481 ?????????? ??????????Thank you, Grade Two, for an amazing day at Our Lady Of the Evergreens School


In Part, Why We Do It

It wasn’t five minutes ago that I stood in the middle of a wide open field.  The air was cold.  Crystals of snow tickled my cheeks.  The sky was dark…the trees, etched in fine detail against the street lamps.  Snow crunched under foot.  My border collie, Max, charged wildly in circles.  When his face looked up at me, it was white apart from his dark eyes, sparkling like coal and like everything around me.  The sensory experience brought back two memories.

For one, I remembered walking home from the airplane hangar that doubled in winter, as a skating rink for military children.  My friends and I would laugh and talk all the way home, one at a time, veering off in the direction of a PMQ…home…warmly lit up on a winter’s night, the collective shrinking in size, the longer we walked. Boots, stiff from the frigid air.  That same crunch under foot.  Leaping into banks, harder and more lumpy than they appeared and piled high on the sides of the road.  Snow packed in swaths shone under street lamps like sheets of cellophane.  A recent plough must have just passed by.  We walked down the center of the road.  No cars. No traffic.  Voices echoing.

Secondly, I thought about my own father throwing a ball for his treasured pet, Gus.  I could look out from my window at 42 Market Street, to the huge field across the street and plainly see my father throwing the ball over and over again, repetitiously and Gus, speeding back like black lightening as many times..  As I threw the whizzo for Max Man in MY field tonight, the repeated action brought up a memory of my father and another dog that, at the time and even now, means the world to me.


So, tonight, similar feelings bubbled up inside me.  I heard myself saying out loud in the field, “I want to remember this moment.”

When my first born was in my arms, I held her close and touched the downy fuzz on the top of her head.  Tears slipping warm down my cheek, I said, “I don’t want to forget this.  Let this moment stay with me. Let me remember.”  Tonight that wee child is a beautiful woman with a husband and the ability to cook amazing meals, nestled in her own home, discovering all of this, apart.

This has been happening a lot lately.  On the day when I had to let go of our family pet, I spent the entire day alone with him…observing…touching the small imperfections of his ears…looking at the patterns on his tail and his tummy, wanting to remember…the joys of the 15 year relationship by some how remembering the details of his physical body, his warm breath, his purring, his gestures.

These and many more experiences (too many to relate here) have come up for me recently, but these do not, the revelation make! (Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury).  The revelation is that these experiences, in part, are why we write…why we paint…why we play music.  I think that we do these things as a way of recollection or floating, as in resin, our experiences, our memories, and our treasured sensory discoveries.

Tonight…Remembrance Day 2014 slips away.  We have remembered through music, poetry, verse, stories and the simple beauty of a red poppy.  Through these rituals, our lives as a creative, struggling, discovering, failing, flopping, getting-up-again people are rehearsed and remembered.

I have written about a crystalline winter’s night, so I will remember.



I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything

Oh what have we here, he must be three or four,
Shaken out of a boot on its way back to war
And hes not looking for a father or a mother,
Just a seven year old brother,
On this smudged line border camp of refugees,
I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.
So where are we now, he must be five or six,
Just running around, hungry kids, sharpened sticks.
And he will grow with pain and fear and jealousy,
Taken in by schools of zealotry,
Who train orphans to make orphans evermore.

I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.

You drink the smoke, you ride the noise
You drink the smoke, you ride the noise,
And you say its necessary,
And you forget the ordinary
But I say, on the wheel of time,
Scour the Earth and find the
Orphans of forgetting, all the orphans of forgetting,
Give them stars for math and praise for good play,
Heres a Band-Aid, happy birthday,
Yes of course I did remember,
I remember everything.
Oh come over here, kid weve got all these books to read,
With the turtles and frogs, cats and dogs who civilize the centuries,
And in a world thats angry, cruel and furious,
Theres this monkey whos just curious,
Floating high above a park with bright balloons.

I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.
I am the one who will remember everything.


Winter in the Garden

Calgary is getting slammed with winter, as is most of Alberta.  I’ve enjoyed holding up, watching things happening outside…the frenzy at the bird feeders and the sparkle of changing light on snow.  It’s been a beautiful retreat.


This Morning In the Garden

Before attending karate last evening, I managed to get the garden implements tucked away in the shed and pulled out the snow shovels.  I also hung four strings of white sparkle lights into the arms of May, for some winter light in the back yard gardens.  This morning, however, I didn’t feel like walking through the 8 cm blanket of snow, in order to plug them in.  I’m opting to stay home this morning while so many others don’t have that choice.  I feel blessed that on a morning like this, I can put on the coffee and stay warm and off those roads!

The Snowbound City

By John Haines

I believe in this stalled magnificence,
this churning chaos of traffic,
a beast with broken spine,
its hoarse voice hooded in feathers
and mist; the baffled eyes
wink amber and slowly darken.

Of men and women suddenly walking,
tumbling with little sleighs
in search of Tibetan houses —
dust from a far-off mountain
already whitens their shoulders.

When evening falls in blurred heaps,
a man losing his way among churches
and schoolyards feels under his cold hand
the stone thoughts of that city,

impassable to all but a few children
who went on into the hidden life
of caves and winter fires,
their faces glowing with disaster.

Kathleen’s Back Yard

Doug’s Front Yard


Stories Left in Snow

What made these tracks?

All sorts of stories might be captured in the crusty snow of the front yard.  While I have not been witness to much of this activity, I can ‘suppose’ what has been going on.  I DO know for fact that the behaviour at the bird feeder has changed since I have attached a seed capture tray to the tube feeder.  The sparrows are totally annoyed, landing in the same bushes and branches and ranting wildly.  They are just not able to approach for some reason…they try, but the attached plastic wires on four corners seem to have them baffled.  Funny enough, the chickadees are celebrating this stall on the sparrows’ behaviour and are regular feeders now.  I hope that I have not created a problem for the sparrows’ survival this winter (Have I?), but the seed accumulating on the snow was creating great mouse activity every time the temperatures would warm up even slightly.  I added the trays out of necessity and likely should have done this earlier.

A close-up...don't think they are mice because I have had mice at the back.

😦 I've lost another sparrow.

I will spare my readers the photograph I’ve taken of ‘sign’ left by an animal that I don’t recognize.  I asked one of my readers if they thought it would be inappropriate to post that and they adamantly replied, “Yes!  It would be so inappropriate!!” Hmmm…

Lot's of bunnies curling up in the bushes and under the tree at night.

 I think that winter is a ‘magical’ season, for so many reasons!  I am in awe of animal life and how they survive sometimes brutal conditions.  Just today, I read this story.

Wet Snow

I looked outside this morning and for the first time this November, round molded snow lies over everything.  The world is white and blue and grey….neighbours brushing off their cars provide the  only splashes of colour, red injected onto an otherwise neutral day.  It all looks so heavy and cold. It looks wet…with that particular up-to-the-ankles-cold-wet. There is a sadness in me because of the loss of autumn this morning.  Autumn captures all of the colour and intensity that I love.

I look at Laurie-dog curled up on the computer-room couch and know that he too, is going to feel particularly indifferent to this new season.