A member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, Autumn Peltier, 16, lives in Canada. She advocates for clean water for that country’s indigenous people. TFK Kid Reporter Pranav Mukhi spoke with her about the power of youth activism.
1. What does water mean to First Nations people?
We believe that we are part of the land, and that we come from the land. We learn that we have a right to protect the land and protect the water.
2. What problems do indigenous communities in Canada face when it comes to water?
They often have little access to clean drinking water because of landfills, oil spills, or old mining sites. For more than 20 years, these communities have been told to boil their water. Canadians have little awareness of this issue.
3. I heard that you took your concerns to Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada.
I met him in 2016. I was told not to say anything to him, just to give him a gift. When he reached for the gift, I pulled back. I said, “I’m very unhappy with the choices you made and the broken promises to my people,” and I started crying. He said, “I will protect the water.”
4. What has the prime minister done since then?
He promised to solve all boil-water advisories in Canada by March 2021. But there are still 54 advisories in First Nations communities, 44 in Ontario alone. Ontario has suffered the most, with poor housing and sanitation , and not having drinking water.
5. You are the chief water commissioner representing 39 First Nations in Ontario. What is your role?
I take ideas, questions, and concerns about water from the communities to our council leaders. And I have a say in decision-making.
6. Do you ever work with other water activists?
I meet many youth advocates for the environment in my travels. I know a lot of children my age, some older and some younger, who are doing the same work. It gives me hope and courage to know there are others out there.
7. What can be done to protect the world’s water?
There are industries that are trying to do things like dump toxic waste into the Great Lakes. We can’t change these industries. But we can try to talk to them and raise our concerns. Clean drinking water is a basic human right. It doesn’t matter what color our skin is. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor.
8. What would you tell kids who want to speak out on behalf of others or the environment?
It is important to speak up on behalf of those who are too afraid to speak up. It can be as easy as writing a letter to your local leaders. The message is so much more powerful when it comes from a young person. You can be the light in someone’s darkness.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.