Indigenous teen water rights activist up for International Peace Prize

Autumn Peltier speaks at the UN

SWEDEN HAS GRETA, WE HAVE AUTUMN. Each one is a teenager with a passion for environmental activism that wins hearts and changes minds.

Greta Thunberg has become a worldwide “super star” of climate change activism. Autumn Peltier is following in her footsteps.

Autum is a 13-year old Anishinaabe girl from Manitoulin Island, ON. And, just like Greta, when Autumn speaks a lot of adults listen. She attended the 2015 Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden, is the only Canadian nominated for the 2019 Children’s International Peace Prize, and had a tearful encounter with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 where he promised to take steps to protect water in Canada.

The David Suzuki Foundation made Autumn their choice for the 2019 Children’s Peace Prize from the International Kid’s Rights Foundation. The prestigious prize is awarded annually to a child who fights courageously to promote the rights of the child and to “move the world.”

Autumn is a passionate Water Ambassador who fights for the right of all children and all people everywhere to have access to clean water. Autumn stood in solidarity with Standing Rock anti-pipeline activists, including joining a one-hour highway blockade. She has been asked to share her water rights wisdom and insights with adults at many leadership, council and committee meetings.

‘Time to warrior up’

‘It’s time to “warrior up,” Autumn told world diplomats gathered in the United Nations General Assembly on World Water Day in March 2018.

The five-foot tall teen stood on a stool behind the podium so she could reach the microphone to speak her truth: “My people believe this to be true. Our water deserves to be treated as human with human rights. We need to acknowledge our waters with personhood so we can protect our waters.

Brenden Varma, spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly, said “it’s definitely not very common to see a 13-year old girl addressing the 193 member states of the United Nations. We’re used to having world leaders … often speaking very bureaucratic language,” he said.

Varma said hearing Peltier give such a heartfelt address was a treat for everyone in the room.

Autumn said she wasn’t nervous speaking in front of the General Assembly. “I felt like they all wanted to hear what I had to say, and I felt heard,” she said. “It’s just a great feeling to be speaking in front of world leaders.”

A measure of Autumn’s strength of commitment came with her determination to get to the UN: Autumn’s flight from Toronto to New York was cancelled three times. So she and her mother ended up driving all the way—a 15-hour trip.

This wasn’t Autumn’s first speech. The resident of the Wikwemikong Unceded Territory has become a well-known advocate for safe drinking water for Indigenous communities and clean waterways in Canada.

Autumn is a very composed and thoughtful teenager. Her mother Stephanie says people often aren’t sure how to take her.

“My mom even used to call her little old woman girl,” said Stephanie. “Sometimes, we joke around and tell her to smile a little.”

Her mother has ensured her children follow their traditional path of water protection by instilling a strong sense of identity and culture.

Autumn said she was also inspired by her great-aunt Josephine Mandamin, who trekked the shores of all five Great Lakes to bring attention to issues threatening Canada’s largest natural resource.

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