Indigenous activist Autumn Peltier vows to hold feds accountable for 61 boil water advisories
OTTAWA -- A new documentary that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival has put a renewed spotlight on an Indigenous clean water advocate known as the “water warrior.”
Autumn Peltier is Anishinaabekwe and a member of Wiikwemkoong First Nation. In 2018, at the age of 13, she pressed world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on the issue of water protection.
Peltier is the focus of a new short film titled, “The Water Walker.” The film tracks her journey from Wiikwemkoong First Nation in northern Ontario to Manhattan where she spoke at UN headquarters for a second time in 2019 about the importance of universal access to clean drinking water.
“Water is a basic human right and nobody should not have access to clean drinking water,” she told CTV News. “We’re talking about our future and the future is in our hands right now.”
With tears in her eyes, Peltier has also pressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly about the ongoing threat that oil pipelines pose to the environment, specifically clean drinking water.
“I’m kind of still holding him accountable because I’m not going to forget that,” she said. “When you think about Canada, you don’t imagine having a crisis or issue this big because we’re looked at as a rich country."
The Trudeau government promised to end all long-term water boil advisories on First Nations reserves by March 2021. As of last March, 88 were lifted, but 61 still remain.
Even through the pandemic, Peltier’s activism hasn’t stopped. Along with completing her school work, she’s also been empowering other youth through online events and speaking engagements.
“I’m really proud of her,” said Autumn’s mother, Stephanie Peltier. “I think about how there’s Indigenous women, I think about how we need to empower each other.”
Peltier’s mother has become a tremendous source of inspiration along with her great aunt Josephine Mandimin, who lobbied tirelessly for the protection of the Great Lakes.
Mandimin began the “water walk” movement in 2003 after growing concerns regarding the pollution happening to the lakes and rivers across Canada. Since 2003, she has walked over 25,000 kilometres across the shorelines of all the Great Lakes to raise awareness for water protection.
Mandimin passed away in February of last year.
“She gave me the first physical teachings of the water and she taught me to become the woman I am today,” Peltier says.
It was her great aunt who planted the seed of advocacy into her mind when she brought Peltier to a water ceremony in Ontario’s Serpent River First Nation when she was just eight years old.
Peltier continues to fight for environmental justice in her great aunt's honour and has taken over the role of Chief Commission of the Anishinabek Nation Women’s Water Walk Commission.
She also has sights on Parliament Hill.
“I feel like it would be a really cool opportunity to be able to say that there was a First Nations prime minister as this is kind of where we come from, this is originally our land,” she said.