‘This is our future’: Indigenous teen returns to UN to call for water protection

It’s her second time speaking at the UN headquarters in Manhattan

Autumn Peltier, a teenage activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont., addresses the United Nations General Assembly on March 22, 2018. (Handout photo by United Nations-Manuel Elias)

Autumn Peltier, a teenage activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Ont., addresses the United Nations General Assembly on March 22, 2018. (Handout photo by United Nations-Manuel Elias)

She’s not old enough to get her learner’s permit, but Autumn Peltier has been a driving force in the fight to protect water in Canada’s Indigenous communities for years.

The teenage activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario has been engaged in the issue since she first came across a boil-water advisory in a nearby Anishinaabe community when she was eight years old.

But Peltier said she’s had this connection since she was in the womb, where according to cultural teachings, one learns to love water as they love their mother. It traces back even further to her female ancestors, from whom she inherited her traditional role as a water carrier.

As she turns 15 on Friday, the same day students across Canada are expected to march in a massive strike intended to disrupt climate-change inaction, Peltier finds herself at the forefront of an environmental movement being led by youth like her and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

This weekend, Peltier — the chief water commissioner for Anishinabek Nation, which advocates for 40 member First Nations in Ontario — will return to the United Nations to share her vision for a world in which everyone has access to clean water.

“I’m willing to do my best to represent Canada and the Indigenous people and have a strong voice for our future,” she said by phone from New York.

“I basically want to tell them about the importance of water from a cultural, spiritual level, and then try to tell them that it’s time for action.”

Peltier is set to address hundreds of international guests on Saturday at the Global Landscapes Forum, a platform on land use backed by UN Environment.

READ MORE: Local woman spearheads Stand for Water campaign

It’s her second time speaking at the UN headquarters in Manhattan, having urged the General Assembly to “warrior up” and take a stand for our planet last year.

Peltier, who was nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize by the David Suzuki Foundation, has spread her message at hundreds of events around the world, her mother, Stephanie Peltier, said.

In 2015, Peltier attended the Children’s Climate Conference in Sweden, and a year later, confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his “broken promises” at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.

“She has taken Canada’s water crisis on Indigenous lands to the global stage,” Robert Nasi, executive director of the Global Landscapes Forum, said in a statement.

Peltier will help kick off the forum’s conference on ecosystem restoration with a speech drawing on her spiritual knowledge about Indigenous Peoples’ connection to land, water and Mother Earth.

The event comes on the heels of the UN’s Climate Action Summit, where earlier this week 16-year-old Thunberg delivered an impassioned plea and scolded world leaders for their inaction on climate change. Thunberg is expected to attend Friday’s climate protests in Montreal.

READ MORE: “How dare you?” Greta Thunberg addresses UN climate summit

Peltier had hoped to meet up with Thunberg in New York, but said making plans proved to be difficult. She’s still excited to connect with other international youth activists, particularly those from Indigenous communities.

Peltier feels her generation is leading the charge on climate change, because while they may not have created the problem, they’re poised to suffer the most severe consequences.

“Will we even have a future to look forward to, for our future children, grandchildren?” she said. “This is our future we’re trying to protect and take care of, because it’s being basically destroyed.”

With youth-led climate strikes sprouting up across the globe, Peltier’s mother said there are signs that adults are finally catching up.

“Where I come from, the youth are our teachers. We learn from them, and so you have to listen to them,” Stephanie Peltier said. “Today, I think it’s just an eye-opener, and the youth are being empowered and they’re being allowed to share.”

She said her daughter’s Instagram audience has seen a tenfold increase this week from 5,500 followers to more than 55,000 as of Thursday afternoon.

She assumes that Thunberg’s moment in the global spotlight may be a factor in this exponential growth. She noted that young Indigenous activists have long been advocating for environmental issues, but are only now receiving recognition.

“We know first hand … that our people have been impacted for many years,” she said. “Now everybody’s saying, hey, what about the Indigenous people? They’ve been doing this work too.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce coveted Alpine Man Statue for winners of the 2020 Community and Business Awards Nov 25. (contributed photo)
Smithers Feed Store named Business of the Year

Chamber of Commerce Community and Business Awards handed out in virtual ceremony via Zoom

The Terrace River Kings lost 9-3 to the Quesnel Kangaroos on Mar. 2, 2019 in the final CIHL playoffs. (Lindsay Chung Photo)
Central Interior Hockey League cancels 2020/21 season

League open to playing exhibition games if possible

Questions around rail safety, firefighter safety, cleanup near the rail yards and tracks, whistle cessation, etc were raised during the RDBN meeting with CN. (File photo)
Regional district frustrated with CN response to grievances

‘A lot of our concerns are still not being heard,’: Houston mayor Shane Brienen

Skiers and snowboarders enjoy the fresh, fluffy snow at Fernie Alpine Resort.
Ski hill scheduled to open Dec. 4

Hudson Bay Mountain Resort will open without its usual contingent of international workers

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

More than 60 cm of snow has fallen at Ulkatcho First Nation near Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin since a snowfall warning went into effect Thursday, Nov. 26. (Graham West photo)
VIDEO: More than 60 cm of snowfall in Chilcotin since Thursday, Nov. 26

Graham West of Ulkatcho First Nation captures the scene on video

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read