First Nations teen joins youth environmental advocates speaking to investors' conference

Autumn Peltier, 13, known for her water advocacy, joined a panel of youth advocates to address the Responsible Investment Association conference in Toronto on Monday.

'Water doesn't discriminate... we all need water,' Autumn Peltier tells responsible investment conference

From left, Rupert Yakelashek, Franny Yakelashek and Autumn Peltier are three of the youth invited to participate in the Talking About Tomorrow: Conversations with Today’s Youth Leaders panel at the Responsible Investment Association conference in Toronto. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

The need for water is universal, 13-year-old Autumn Peltier from Wikwemikong First Nation told about 400 businesspeople assembled for an investment conference in Toronto on Monday.

"Water doesn't discriminate, water doesn't judge colour or how much money we have or how sick we have to be to access it," said Peltier, addressing the Responsible Investment Association (RIA) conference. 

"The truth is, we all need water." 

Peltier was part of a panel of youth environmental advocates who took part in a session called Talking About Tomorrow: Conversations with Today's Youth Leaders that opened the conference.

This is not the first youth panel that Peltier has been a part of and she said that it's like they're all one voice when youth are standing and speaking up. 

"When it's coming from more than one person, it's more powerful," she said. 

A panel of youth speak about environmental and water advocacy at the RIA conference. From left, Levi Hildebrand, Rupert and Franny Yakelashek, and Autumn Peltier. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

Peltier spoke to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on World Water Day in March. She also attended the 2015 Children's Climate Conference in Sweden and was the only Canadian nominated for the 2017 Children's International Peace Prize.

She was inspired in her activism by her aunt Josephine Mandamin, who is a water walker, Elder and activist.

"Since I was a little girl, my auntie Josephine Mandamin and my mom have been teaching me about the importance of water," said Peltier. 

Continuing aunt's work

Mandamin has Parkinson's disease and Peltier said she has taken on the role of water walker and advocate as her auntie can no longer walk on her own. 

"I feel like it's my responsibility and something that I have to do." 

Autumn Peltier, centre, with her mother and sister after speaking at the RIA Conference. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC )

The purpose of a water walk is to bring awareness to the sacredness of water and how necessary it is to live. Many Indigenous communities are under boil water advisories and do not have access to clean water. 

When asked about what she would like to say to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, Peltier said she would tell him the same thing she did before when she spoke with him in 2016, that she's disappointed with the choices he's made. 

Youth panellists

Peltier was joined on the panel by Levi Hildebrand and Rupert and Franny Yakelashek.

Hildebrand, a student at the University of Victoria who makes YouTube videos, calls himself an edu-tainer because he mixes entertainment with education in his videos. He's most known for dumping 367 dirty coffee cups on his head in a call for more sustainable alternatives. 

The Yakelasheks are siblings from B.C. who champion the right to a healthy environment. They have influenced 23 municipalities to make environmental rights declarations. 

While the siblings are non-Indigenous, they both believe that there needs to be more respect given to both environmental and Indigenous rights, which are connected. 

"We need to have greater respect of Indigenous knowledge and culture and recognize that settlers are just visitors on this land," said Franny Yakelashek.

"Traditional Indigenous culture has so much knowledge about the environment," said Rupert.

"There's knowledge about every stream and piece of land and how to keep the environment healthy — we just need to listen."