In one of her last gestures as outgoing Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson has announced the winner of the newly created Governor General’s Northern Medal.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuit activist from Iqaluit, has been awarded the first Governor General’s Northern Medal for bringing international attention to pollution and climate change in the Arctic.
“The north expresses and shapes our imagination as Canadians,” the Governor General said in a press release. “This medal will honour those who are in and of the north and those who help our wellbeing as Canadians through their work in the north.”
Watt-Cloutier brought attention to the problems of global warming and its impact on the Arctic as chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. During her early years with the conference, she led a coalition of northern Indigenous people who persuaded partners to sign a global agreement in 2001 to ban environmental pollutants that contaminate the Arctic food chain.
Watt-Cloutier “has been an eloquent spokesperson for the North and an advocate for Inuit rights, not only across Canada but also internationally,” says the official citation. “Her passion and dedication have put a human face on the challenges that the Arctic and its people confront every day.”
The Governor General’s Northern Medal will be awarded annually to a citizen whose actions and achievements have contributed to the Canadian North.
An advisory committee consisting of seven representatives of Aboriginal and northern communities will recommend recipients.
The medallion was designed by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin. It shows a snowy owl, representing a watchful guardian spirit, the aurora borealis symbolizing the scope of the North and a small Canadian Arctic diamond signifying the North Star.