Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior: Canadian Climate Activist Autumn Peltier Speaks at the UN
By Romy Shoam
The world has recently been taken by storm by a Swedish climate activist, sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, and the climate strikes she has organized. Although Thunberg is very deserving of media and public attention, it is essential to acknowledge and shed light on other youth activists fighting for climate justice, namely Autumn Peltier, an indigenous fifteen-year-old climate activist from Canada.
Peltier, an Anishinaabe teen from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory (Manitoulin Island, Ontario), has been lobbying for the cause of clean water since the age of eight. Upon learning that some communities are under boil water advisories—meaning that the water from the lakes surrounding them are polluted—and then about a lack of clean drinking water on an international level, Peltier understands the importance of protecting freshwater sources. She thus realizes the importance of raising awareness about the issue, just as her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, has done by founding the Mother Earth Water Walk in 2003, and walking around the five Great Lakes.
On September 28th, 2019, one day after her fifteenth birthday, this previous International Children’s Peace Prize nominee spoke at the United Nations Global Landscapes Forum. Her speech is similar to her first speech at the UN, at age thirteen, the reason for which she explained to CBC: there has been no concrete change since then. In fact, ever since she started advocating for water justice, the situation has gotten worse, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to her in 2016 to protect the water.
"Ever since she started advocating for water justice, the situation has gotten worse, despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to her in 2016 to protect the water"
Her indigenous perspective is incredibly valuable, especially at a time as critical as now; she uses her Anishinaabe knowledge to urge others to respect water. Her culture’s belief is that water is a living being, and is of the utmost value to humans: we live in it for nine months, our bodies are mostly made up of it, and we need it to survive. Water is considered sacred because it has been passed on through every pregnancy, giving life to every human, its original source being Mother Earth herself.
In her speech, Peltier calls for a return to traditional ways by banning plastics—an accessible and affordable solution to wastefulness, but that requires effort nonetheless— inspired by her grandfather’s reminiscent stories of zero-waste methods to preserve food. She also proposes cooperation between youth and elders, thus consolidating the latter’s wisdom and experience with the former’s drive.
Closing her speech with a powerful statement, in reference to today’s capitalist society, Peltier affirms, while staring intently at her audience, that “we can’t eat money, or drink oil”.
Peltier documents her trip to New York City on Instagram, and shares that she is in the process of filming a documentary. Autumn Peltier’s position as Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner provides her with the platform needed to communicate the needs of her Nation, among others, for clean drinking water, and the urgency of which action needs to be taken in order to rectify the current situation.