Inuit activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Shelia Watt-Cloutier testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 1, 2007. Her message was clear: Climate change threatens to undermine the culture, health, and livelihood of the Inuit and other indigenous people around the world. Here is a portion of her testimony:
“While Inuit are not an agricultural people, we depend on the bounty of the land for our survival. The traditional Inuit diet is being eroded as animals are less plentiful, less healthy and more difficult to harvest. Further, as the planet warms, more persistent organic pollutants, of which Inuit are the net highest recipients on the planet, find their way to our homeland through the additional runoff from watersheds that empty in the Arctic. We can no longer rely on the traditional practice of food caching as food rots and insects invade caches. Often, our access to our traditional hunting is cut off as sea ice is depleted and permafrost slumps or melts. These changes undermine the realization of our rights to culture, life, health, and means of subsistence….
“Human health will be affected by changing disease vectors, extreme heat, and reduction of air quality. Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and possibly avian flu are spreading to higher elevations and newly warming regions. For the first time in my history, my hometown had to start to use air conditioners. Imagine, air conditioners in the Arctic. It’s almost unbelievable. And our homes are not meant to be breathing because of the cold, and so it becomes very difficult even in our homes. So all of these things are starting to affect, of course, the vulnerable members of society: the elderly, young children, those that suffer from respiratory diseases — such as asthma and emphysema — and the poor, who lack access to air conditioning and adequate health care. Areas already suffering poor air quality will be hardest hit….
“The individual rights of many are at stake. The collective rights of many peoples to their culture is also at stake. I encourage the Commission to continue its work in protecting human rights. In so doing, you will protect the sentinels of climate change — the indigenous people. By protecting the rights of those living sustainably in the Amazon Basin or the rights of the Inuit hunter on the snow and ice, this commission will also be preserving the world’s environmental early-warning system.
The entire text of her testimony, as well as an interview, video, and other testimonies, are available at: http://www.earthjustice.org/news/press/007/nobel-prize-nominee-testifies-about-global-warming.html