13-year-old Anishinaabe water advocate to speak at United Nations

Autumn Peltier from Wikwemikong First Nation has been invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly for the declaration of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

'I’m representing my First Nations Peoples and I’m representing the water,' says Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, a 13-year-old Anishinaabe water advocate from Wikwemikong First Nation, will be speaking at the UN General Assembly as they declare 2018-2028 the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. (Linda Roy/Irevaphotography)

A 13-year-old Anishinaabe girl from Wikwemikong First Nation will address world leaders at the United Nations next spring about protecting water.

Autumn Peltier has been invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for the declaration of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.

"This is a huge thing that the world needs to hear ... and pay attention to what's going to happen to our planet," Autumn said.

"I'm representing my First Nations Peoples and I'm representing the water."

The girl's advocating and devotion to protecting water and the environment has earned her respect from Indigenous communities in Canada and also government officials.

Autumn was also the only child from Canada to be nominated for the 2017 International Children's Peace Prize. She will also receive the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers, a national award in recognition for her contributions to her community, in January at the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

She began advocating for water protection when she was eight, inspired by her aunt Josephine Mandamin. Mandamin had long been an advocate for clean and sacred waters and walked the shores of the five Great Lakes to raise awareness.

Autumn found it difficult to believe that there were some children her own age who are only able to drink water that has been bottled. Learning this and talking with her aunt inspired her to advocate and to pass on knowledge about the sacredness of water to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

Autumn Peltier, far right, sits by the water with her sister, great aunt Josephine Mandamin, and mother. (Submitted by Stephanie Peltier)

Autumn's mother, Stephanie Peltier, travels with her for her speaking engagements, which in the next year will take Autumn from her home on Manitoulin Island in Ontario across Canada from British Columbia to New Brunswick.

She's in such high demand that she can't commit to all of the requests she receives for speaking engagements.

"For a minute I had to sit down and turn everything off and really think this through," said Stephanie.

At only 13 years of age, Autumn Peltier has gained national and international recognition for her advocacy for clean water for Indigenous communities in Canada. (Linda Roy/Irevaphotography)

All of the attention has been overwhelming, but in a good way, said Stephanie. They could be travelling every week to different engagements, but Autumn wants to stay in school.

"She said 'Don't say yes to everything,' because she liked school and her friends," said Stephanie.

"The thought of home school crossed my mind as well."

For now, Autumn will continue her advocacy while attending school. She said it's a lot but that she's able to cope with it.

"I know that just from seeing and speaking in other places, I know that tons of people are hearing the message that me and tons of other people are trying to get out," Autumn said.

"Protecting water and just getting out message and I know that there's a lot people listening and learning still that are protecting the water with us."

Autumn is scheduled to speak to the general assembly on World Water Day, March 22.

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Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.