Environmental justice summit helps students work toward a better future

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Environmental, Cultural and Human Rights Advocate
Environmental Justice Pathways Summit keynote speaker, Nobel Prize nominee and environmental, cultural and human rights advocate and Sheila Watt-Cloutier.


Story by Claire Warner, CHC Communications 

The University of Oregon, Eugene-based Beyond Toxics—a Eugene-based non-profit—and the NAACP Eugene-Springfield chapter will host the Environment Justice Pathways Summit on April 9-10, a two-day virtual event beginning Friday. The summit will feature renowned speakers and foster discussions, workshops and organizational meetings that will address environmental topics, including the right to clean air, the right to a healthy workplace and Tribal water justice.

Both Beyond Toxics and the NAACP are committed to achieving environmental and climate justice for historically disadvantaged and underserved communities.

“Environmental and climate injustices have disproportionately impacted those who contribute the least to the problem,” according to the EJPS website. “In order to make sure we uplift and prioritize the voices of those most impacted by environmental and climate injustices, we need to pave the way towards sustainable and equitable solutions.”

The event will also feature two keynote speakers, Mustafa Santiago Ali—an activist and policymaker who works with vulnerable communities to achieve environmental justice and political empowerment—and Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a climate and human rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Watt-Cloutier works to transform public opinion into public policy and views the environment, economy, foreign policy, global health, and sustainability as deeply interconnected and essential to her work in the Arctic, where the impacts of climate change are immediate and dramatic. She will be giving the Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples lecture on Friday, April 9 at noon

"Watt-Cloutier provides an essential voice our community must hear—not only to understand how climate change affects Arctic Indigenous communities, but also to recognize her action and success, and the hope she offers for future change and improvements,” said Mark Carey, director of the UO Environmental Studies Program, Clark Honors College professor and keynote co-organizer. “Her work is incredibly inspiring and shows us how to move forward, and why we must."

In her lecture, Watt-Cloutier will highlight relationships between environmental degradation, human trauma and Inuit history and culture. She will also connect the COVID-19 pandemic to climate issues, helping the audience imagine a way forward that alleviates suffering and mitigates environmental disaster.

“The pandemic has given a pause, a time to reflect on new possibilities,” Watt-Cloutier said. “It is a time to shift from apathy to empathy and see how we are all inter-connected. What happens in the Arctic affects us all.”

Kathy Lynn, conference co-organizer, states that while climate change is having profound impacts on Indigenous lands, sovereignty and culture, Indigenous communities around the world are at the forefront of efforts to address climate change.

Carey and Lynn invited members of the  to offer comments and pose questions as part of Watt-Cloutier’s keynote to foster a multi-generational discussion about climate change, Indigenous rights, and environmental justice. Ryan Reed and Angela Noah, both students at the University of Oregon, will serve as the respondents to Watt-Cloutier.

“We hope students see and understand not just disproportionate effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples and the Arctic, but also how they are leaders for addressing climate change and environmental injustices,” Carey said. “The lecture should give us a path forward, hope, and better awareness about how to move forward.”