“We can’t eat money or drink oil.” Autumn Peltier repeats this statement during her many speeches worldwide over the past few years. She says it again at the UN meeting in Manhattan on Saturday, September 28th. She’s only 15 years old, and this isn’t her first time in this position. Peltier has dedicated her life to raising awareness about the pollution of drinking water.
Autumn Peltier was born September, 2004. She is an indigenous girl of the Anishinaabe Territory of Manitoulin Island, Ontario, where she has been raised. Her great aunt, Josephine Mandamin, had always been one of her greatest influences. Mandamin had founded Mother Earth Water Walkers. He was concerned about pollution in the Great Lakes and other nearby bodies of water. To raise awareness, Peltier walked around the perimeter of Lake Superior, which in Anishinaabe culture, symbolized the renewal of the Earth.
While Autumn Peltier has also been inspired by other young advocates worldwide, her biggest inspiration has always been her great aunt. Peltier had been taught from a young age that water is especially sacred, as it is associated with Mother Earth. She began advocating for clean drinking water at only eight years old. She hated to hear of how polluted the water was becoming. Peltier was especially inspired when she visited a water ceremony in Serpent River Reservation and saw a sign warning people against drinking the dirty water. The warning made her realize not all Canadians, and not all people internationally, have access to clean drinking water. Peltier made her first global speech in 2015 at the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden, at 10 years old.
2016 is when Peltier started to become much more recognized. At the Assembly of First Nations, she addressed Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, about clean drinking water, protection of water, and support of pipelines. “Warrior up!” the young advocate exclaims towards the Assembly. This didn’t just lead her to becoming more recognized internationally, but it also led to the Assembly of First Nations implementing the Niabi Odacidae fund. This fund has the goal of protecting water for future generations, inspired by Autumn Peltier’s passion for ending water pollution.
Earlier this year, February 2019, Josephine Mandamin died at the age of 77. Two months later, Autumn Peltier took her place as chief water commissioner at only 14 years old. She was appointed this spot by the Anishinabek Nation, a position she is proud to hold. “It [being chief water commissioner] tells me that my Indigenous leaders have heard my voice and seen me using my voice for the water, to protect it and to advocate for my Indigenous people,” Peltier says in a recent interview. “Who would have ever thought there would be a time we have to fight and stand up for water?”
She has been nominated for a variety of awards due to her hard work in the past few years. Most notably, she has been nominated for the Children’s International Peace Award in 2017, 2018, and again in 2019. She has also been recognized for the Ontario Junior Citizens Award in 2017, Sovereign Medal of Exceptional Volunteerism in 2017, Ottawa Riverkeeper Award in 2018, Water Warrior Award in 2019, Young Leader Award in 2019, and Top 30 Under 30 In North America for Environmental Education in 2019.
Despite her many accomplishments and awards, she has experience with being bullied in school and throughout the media. She has been given many negative comments from her peers and even adults that have made her feel as if she should quit her advocacy. However, she understands that everyone who speaks up for themselves will eventually be put down. Peltier gives advice to other young girls who have been bullied, telling them, “Keep going, don’t look back, and if you have an idea, just do it; no one is going to wait for you or tell you what to do, use your voice and speak up for our planet”.
Autumn Peltier recently spoke during the United Nations meeting in Manhattan, her second time doing so. She had the chance to share her story with a variety of world leaders, and it has now been heard by many people internationally. Peltier states during an interview, “The world leaders heard my story and my concern because we all need water, whether we are poor or rich or different colours, we all need water to survive”.
For the future, she aspires to always have a role in which she can help people and the world she lives in. She wants to continue to inspire others to stop water pollution by spreading her knowledge, but she also would like to pursue being a doctor, nurse, lawyer, or another career that has a positive impact on others.
Autumn Peltier pleads for the world to join her fight, and she has good reason. Unclean drinking water can easily lead to fatal diseases worldwide. As Pelteir has said to the world leaders that choose to ignore the conflict, “We can’t eat money or drink oil”. She continues to work to make an impact on everyone internationally, from young girls who want to follow in her footsteps to government officials. She is a warrior for the world’s water, and as of now, she has no intentions of dropping her passion.