Indigenous teen fights for water preservation

By: Elise Le Sage

Thirteen-year-old Autumn Peltier has made it her mission to demand more effective water preservation from her county’s leaders. “I am sad whenever I think about the waters,” she wrote in a speech that was intended to be delivered in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “I am sad because the waters are sick… It’s time for humanity to stop terrorizing Mother Earth and give her time to heal.”

The teen is from Wikwemikong, a First Nation in Ontario and already has an impressive political résumé. She launched her journey of environmental advocacy at age eight, when she began speaking at community events about conserving and respecting water. In 2016, she presented a ceremonial water bowl to Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) yearly winter gathering. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize during that same year and has since attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden, and delivered speeches all across her country. Next Spring, she will travel to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly for the declaration of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

The AFN water bowl presentation put a spotlight on Autumn’s budding career as an indigenous activist. Although the AFN national chiefs advised her not to deliver her full and prepared speech, Autumn did manage to tell the Prime Minster: “I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made.” Trudeau, who has backed numerous pipeline projects, responded “I understand that” and promised to protect the water. Following this, Autumn reported: “I started crying and all I got to say after that was, ‘The pipelines.’”

Water is sacred to Autumn’s tribe, which lends spiritual motivation to her activism. She hopes to be the voice that water itself does not have. “I’m going to be an ancestor one day,” she said. “I’m still going to have great-grandchildren on this land, and I hope they are still able to drink the water.”

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Pictured: Autumn Peltier presents water bowl to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo courtesy of CBC News.

In many ways, Autumn is a normal teen. She runs track, spends time with friends, and manages an Instagram account – but her advocacy is sought after widely, rendering Autumn so busy that she has to turn down offers to speak so she can maintain a normal adolescence. Her hectic schedule doesn’t discourage her political aspirations, though. In fact, Autumn dreams of either being Canada’s future prime minster, or the minister of environment. Either way, this young woman is definitely on track to be one of the upcoming generation’s great political figures.