Anishinaabe teen only Canadian up for International Children's Peace Prize
‘When I talk to other youth, I tell them that you could do the work I’m doing,' says Autumn Peltier
A teen from Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve, Ont. has been nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize - the only Canadian among the nominees.
Autumn Peltier, 13, is a youth advocate for clean and sacred waters and said her Aunt Josephine Mandamin, a water walker, is one of her greatest inspirations.
"She inspires me to keep on going with my work and she inspires me to encourage other children," said Autumn, who has been speaking in her community since she was about 8.
The International Children's Peace Prize is awarded annually to an inspirational child who has has made a difference in improving the lives of children worldwide. The prize, which is platform for children to express and promote their ideas, was launched during the 2005 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
Her mother, Stephanie Peltier, was approached by Wikwemikong Youth worker Natalie Neganigijig, who brought the International Children's Peace Prize to her attention and suggested that Peltier nominate Autumn.
Autumn took part in a cultural camp in her community in 2015, which focused on teaching youth about the land and team building. Through the camp, she was invited to travel to the Children's Climate Conference in Sweden, which brought together 64 children from 32 different countries to create a communique of the children's demands to the leaders of the world, that would be delivered to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Upon returning to Canada, she was invited to the Assembly of First Nations Annual General Assembly, where she delivered a speech calling for action in protecting sacred waters.
"Autumn's speech is pretty touching to the heart because she's connected to the land and her teachings. I try to preserve our language and our ways with her so she can pass it on." Peltier said.
Both of Peltier's parents were survivors of the residential school system, her father having attended a boarding facility while her mother attended day school. She said her parents' experiences impacted the way she has raised her three daughters.
"When I was younger I made it my mission to make sure I learn everything and pass it down to my kids. It's true what they say that your kids mirror you, they say you have to walk in a good way, that's what my parents are always reminding me about," Peltier said.
Autumn's advocacy heads to Ottawa
In November of last year, Autumn issued a national call to action to shut down all of the highways across the country for an hour on Dec. 5, 2016 to bring awareness to water protection.
One month later, she stood on the highway in Espanola, Ont. with her mother and community members in an act of solidarity to create awareness for Canadian waters, and also in support of those protesting at Standing Rock.
During this, Peltier received a phone call from Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day, inviting Autumn to Ottawa to gift Prime Minster Justin Trudeau a water bundle. At her mother's urging, she accepted.
"While we were driving [to Ottawa] she was getting a little upset," said Peltier. "She said, 'I don't understand why I have to drive eight hours to give a present to the Prime Minister. How come they don't ask an Indigenous child from that territory?'"
She used the drive to write a speech she hoped she would be able to deliver. However, upon arrival, she only had the chance to hand him the gift. It was during this exchange she became frustrated and asked him to make a promise.
"I would like to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau carry on with the promise he made with me, he told me he would protect the water," said Autumn.
Autumn continues to spread her message about the importance of protecting water to communities and youth.
"When I do talk to other youth, I always tell them that 'you could do the work I'm doing," said Autumn.
"I like to share that water is really sacred. Water is life. Mother Earth doesn't need us, we need her."
Passion and strength
While Autumn has only just turned 13, her passion for advocacy is strong, said her mother.
"She's got all of these messages that just come out of her -- she's a pretty serious little girl," said Peltier.
"A lot of people don't know how to take her, but when you get to know her she's pretty funny and crazy. She does take her time to be a little kid, but when she gets that look in her eye I can tell something's brewing."
When she's at home in Wiikwemkoong Unceded territory, Autumn likes to play outside with her dog or spend time drawing and writing. But, she also takes the time to educate herself.
"I came in the door there two or three weeks ago and she said, 'Mom, you're not going to believe this. I've been sitting here for four hours studying [Assembly of First Nations National Chief] Perry Bellegarde's speeches," said Peltier.
Peltier said she is amazed at what her daughter has accomplished.
I never could have imagined this. She has no idea how big it is.- Stephanie Peltier
"I never could have imagined this," said Peltier. "She has no idea how big it is."
Autumn said she's excited to hear the results of the Peace Prize and also looks forward to continuing to share her message about water with other communities.
The International Children's Peace Prize award ceremony will take place on December 4th, 2017 in the Netherlands.
Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve, Ont. is on Manitoulin Island, southwest of Sudbury.