The Right to be Cold is the only non-fiction book on the Canada Reads list this year, and it deserves to be there. It covers a lot of ground in only 326 pages.
Level one is the memoir of the author’s life, starting as a child raised in the far north of Quebec, an area called Nunavik. She was raised by a single mother (her father was stationed in the north, but eventually left), and a single grandmother (who also had a relationship with a man who came north, then left). When she got older, she went south for school, losing touch with her native language. As she got older, she married, had children, got divorced, and got involved in politics. She started with local schools, eventually working her way up to the leadership of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
Level two is the history of how northern culture has changed, in large part because of the interference of the south. The massacre of sled dogs by authorities was one big way. She also discusses how that lead to alcoholism, abuse, and crimes that had rarely occured before that. She’s very passionate about preserving traditions, while also educating the young to be part of the global community without giving up their culture.
Finally, she looks at climate change (and the titular ‘right to be cold’) and how it has affected life in the north. She started with the fact that polution in the south was settling in the north, causing health problems. Then she started into fighting climate change by couching it as a human rights issue, since it is making it difficult for the Inuit to preserve their way of life.
Now, don’t think in terms of tree huggers. Since the Inuit are hunters, Ms Watt-Cloutier has little patience for well-meaning southerners who want to ban seal hunting and polar bear hunting and the like. These are essential to survival in the north. Instead, she is for sustainable hunting.
Ms Watt-Cloutier comes across as a very pragmatic person, and her words should be widely read.
After two reads in the Canada Reads 2017 contest, I rate the books as
1. The Right to be Cold
2. Fifteen Dogs