Secret Life of Canada

Meet Autumn Peltier, teen water warrior

It's our first shout out to a living youth leader! Meet Autumn Peltier. Greatly influenced by her great aunt Josephine Mandamin, Autumn has been using her voice to advocate for water rights since she was 8 years old.
Autumn Peltier is a teen water advocate from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. (Courtesy of Stephanie Peltier)

Not every person worth remembering made it into the history books. Each month, the Secret Life of Canada shouts out a Canadian or Indigenous person that has had a lasting impact worth celebrating. These historical figures may not be on money or monuments but their legacies live on.

For the first time in The Secret Life of Canada's history, we're shouting out someone who's not only alive but actually a lot younger than the makers of this podcast. 

At the age of 14, Autumn Peltier has travelled internationally to advocate for the protection of water. The Indigenous teen has been nominated for several awards, has spoken before world leaders, and has been fighting for water rights alongside her elders since she was 8 years old.

Here are five things we learned about Peltier, who hails from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory. 

1) She carries on her great aunt's legacy 

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

Peltier isn't her family's first water warrior. Her great aunt Josephine Mandamin was a well-known advocate for water protection and conservation of the Great Lakes.

In 2003, Mandamin set out on her first water walk. She would go on to walk the shoreline of all five of the great lakes, an estimated distance of 17 thousand kilometers. Her water walks inspired many others to walk for water awareness.

Josephine passed away in February but through her niece, her work and legacy continues on. Following her death,  Peltier said, "Since she can't do it anymore, I'm going to continue it for her."

2) She was shaped by an early memory

Among many accolades, Peltier has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize. (Photo taken by Linda Roy)

Peltier comes from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island. The island is the largest freshwater island in the world, and although her community doesn't have issues with their drinking water she learned early on that this isn't the case in every community.

At the age of eight, while attending a ceremony at the Serpent River Reservation, Peltier saw a sign that warned against drinking the water and warned that it was "toxic." This was when she learned that not all people in Canada have access to drinking water. She decided she needed to start using her voice to speak for the people and for the water. 

3) She has spoken at over 200 events 

Peltier has spoken nationally and internationally, including at the Children's Climate Conference in Sweden, at the United Nations in New York, and at an Assembly of First Nations gathering where she told Prime Minister Trudeau that she was unhappy with his decisions regarding the development of pipelines in Canada. The Prime Minister promised her, "I will protect the water." 

4) She uses traditional teachings 

Peltier, seen here in traditional regalia, often brings ceremony into her advocacy work. (Courtesy of Stephanie Peltier)

Peltier is deeply connected to her culture and the traditional teachings she has received from the strong women in her family and community. Her environmentalism is a result of her culture in many ways.

She uses ceremony and song to connect and pay respect to the earth and to the water. She says, "I like to share that water is really sacred. Water is life. Mother Earth doesn't need us, we need her."

5) She just took on a very important title

"I hope to see people standing up and more people taking action," says Peltier. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

This past June, it was announced that Peltier was appointed the new Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner.

Through this position, Peltier will help to raise awareness on water issues and share traditional knowledge. In response to the news, Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare said, "she has been bringing global attention to the water issues in our country for a few years now. It is an honour to have her be our next Chief Water Commissioner."