She has gained worldwide recognition, making international headlines as a clean water advocate but 15-year-old Autumn Peltier from Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Manitoulin Island in northern Ontario had a calling and footsteps to follow.
Peltier’s great aunt Josephine Mandamin was a well-known protector of water, who held the title of chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation before she passed away in 2019. No stranger to clean water activism, Petier took on the role shortly after her great aunt’s passing.
“I was already following in her footsteps and they thought it was best that they give the title to me because I’m carrying on her work,” said Peltier.
The “work” involves promoting awareness about the 57 outstanding water advisories affecting 36 First Nations throughout Canada. Some indigenous communities have not had clean, running drinking water for more than two decades, which Peltier says is wrong.
“Nobody or no community should have to live without clean drinking water because water is a basic human right and everyone deserves clean drinking water and nobody can live without it,” she said.
The activist shared her clean water message with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an emotional encounter in 2016.
She has addressed the United Nations twice, including giving a speech at the Global Landscapes Forum in September in New York City where she told the global community: “We can’t eat money or drink oil.”
Peltier has also received dozens of acknowledgments for her activism, including receiving the 2019 “Planet in Focus” Rob Stewart Youth Eco-Hero award which was presented to her in October, as well as being named the only Canadian in the “BBC Top 100 women of 2019.”
Prior to her most recent speech at United Nations headquarters in September, Peltier said she had 5,000 followers on Instagram but that number swelled to 105 thousand followers afterwards.
“It’s a good feeling because a lot more people are definitely aware of the stuff I’m doing and what my message is,” said Peltier.
When Peltier isn’t doing her water advocacy work, she attends high school in Ottawa, where she lives with her mother, Stephanie and two sisters, Ciara and Naomi.