Mediaplanet sat down with Autumn Peltier, the youngest Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation. Autumn shares her experience on public speaking and the petition that she has created to spread awareness on Indigenous people having access to clean drinking water.
How did you become comfortable with public speaking at such a young age?
Of course, at a young age, I had no idea where this path was going to take me, nor was I an experienced public speaker. I was nervous, but I had this strong urge to say something and use my voice for the water crisis. I was eight years old when I had my first opportunity to say something about the water crisis once I saw children younger than me not being able to drink water from their taps. At that point, I became angry that small kids never knew what clean running water was. The sad reality of that being normal didn’t sit well with me.
How did you learn that not everyone in Canada has access to clean drinking water, and what was your initial 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 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.
How did you feel when you were appointed as Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation?
Being appointed Chief Water Commissioner was shocking. I had to really think, and my mom consulted with her dad, family, and other elders. I accepted. Mostly, I was proud because it was in honour of my late great aunt Josephine Mandamin. Even though I wasn’t sure if I could fill her shoes and the expectations, I was honoured to continue such work. I knew the role was a big one and it gave me a chance to have a seat at the decision table. I’m also a high school student — as school courses get harder, everything gets harder to balance. I do my best and try to keep informed about things. Being a youth myself, I believe it’s the youth that can inspire. I also believe that society needs to start listening to youth more. They are our future, and I feel very fortunate to have the chance to connect to our world’s future.
Do you have any role models that you look up to who are also advocates of water rights?
Well, my biggest inspiration always was and will be my late aunt Josephine Mandamin. My role model would be my mother. She always raised us girls knowing who we are and where we come from. She raised us to attend ceremonies and always be around our elders. The women who have been mentored by my aunt and who are water walkers are the women I look up to, and I know this work will continue even if I’m not around to do the work.
What is 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 that survived so we can 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.