Monday, November 09, 2015

Reader's Diary #1211- Sheila Watt-Cloutier: The Right to Be Cold

Our library has Sheila Watt-Cloutier's The Right to be Cold classified in the biography section (which also includes autobiographies and memoirs).

The title, however, suggests something different. It's "The Right to Be Cold," not, "My Right to Be Cold," after all.

So did my library catalogue it incorrectly? Perhaps it would better fit under ecology? Or perhaps philosophy?

In the end, however, I think the classification is apt. Cloutier begins by describing her early life in Kuujjuaq, northern Quebec. And her own life very much remains at the center of the book. Sharing details about her residential school experience, her marriage, her father, and so forth, I wondered when she might get to "the right to be cold." She does, to be sure, but it's past the midway of the book. There's actually almost as much about her fight against POPs; the pesticides and other synthetic chemicals to wind up in the winds, making their way to Arctic and the food chain.

However, Watt-Cloutier does lead us, eventually, to the right to be cold and it's her arguments here that make me suspect none of this arrangement of details was haphazard. She rails against global warming campaigns that do not put a human face on the tragedy. Polar bears are usually at the center of such campaigns, with nary an Inuk in sight. By telling her own story, she submits herself, essentially as Exhibit A. You want to talk about change in the Arctic? You want to talk about how it affects people? Here she is.

But it also helps support her other argument: that we're all connected. Hers is a message of holistic health. As she gets her own life in order, taking care of herself spiritually, socially, physically, and so forth; as she reconciles her choices and her circumstances, seeks a greater understanding, all in an effort to become a complete human being, she advocates the same for the Earth and the human race. We cannot be a healthy planet without a healthy Arctic and we cannot be a healthy human race if we forget about the Inuit. Life is not a metaphor but the entire theme.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I feel from your review that Watt-Cloutier managed to get her point across without becoming sanctimonious. It could be a very fine line to straddle so I applaud her for that.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: You're right, I didn't find her at all that way. I should note that there were a couple of points that I didn't necessarily agree with her on, but in the book she acknowledges people who may not see things her way with surprising respect, and so I feel like if her and I met, we'd be able to actually talk rationally about our slight differences of opinion.