Mediaplanet sat down with Autumn Peltier, a leading youth environmental activist and the youngest Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. Autumn shares why she believes it’s important for the youth to stand up for what they believe in.
How has being a member of the Anishinabek First Nation motivated your initiatives as an environmental activist?
Anishinabek people are stewards of the land. Being Anishinaabe is my right to advocate and protect the lands. I was raised in a land-based traditional lifestyle since birth, and it’s what we do. I was mentored and raised to do this work.
How did you learn that not everyone in Canada has access to clean drinking water, and what was your reaction?
After seeing this personally on-site, it really bothered me, and I felt guilty as if I took having access to clean water for granted. These children had no idea and it seemed they were okay with it. So, I went home that night and I googled what a boil water advisory was and then the can of worms opened. I found out that First Nations communities have had boil water advisories for over 20 years. Then I found out that Ontario had the most of all in Canada — I saw it was 95 percent Indigenous communities only. So, I wondered why only my people? I was confused because Canada isn’t a third-world country, but my people live in poor third-world conditions. I was so confused, and my blood began to boil. This was the day and the exact moment that I knew I had to do something.
Do you have a role model who encouraged you to stand up for Indigenous rights?
My role models growing up were my Great Auntie Josephine Mandamin and Mom. My Great Auntie Josephine was the original water protector who walked the shores of all of the Great Lakes. Before she passed, she told me that while people will point and deter you from the work, you have to just keep going. I miss her greatly.
What’s one piece of advice you have for the youth when it comes to standing up for what you believe in?
My advice for youth is that anyone can do this work. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a grandparent who survived so we could be here and continue to stand up for our people, our waters, our lands, and our rights. You must want it and actually do it. It’s scary at first, but once you think about the planet and the waters, your heart brings you to another place where your ancestors’ blood runs through your veins and all you know is survival. Today’s youth are driving the largest movement of voice across so many platforms as everything is so accessible. The more we continue to speak, the closer we get to be heard. When we stand together as one, we are one voice and one nation.