Autumn Peltier, Anishinaabe water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 27 September 2004 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON). Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned water-rights advocate and a leading global youth environmental activist. In April 2019, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the issue of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada at the United Nations. For her activism, Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Chief Water Commissioner Autumn Peltier, from the Anishinabek Nation in Canada, addresses the Global Landscapes Forum, at the United Nations on Saturday, September 28, 2019.
Early Life and Education
Autumn Peltier was born and raised on the shores of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater supply. She has attended school in Ottawa, where she lives with her mother and two sisters, Naomi and Ciara.
At the age of eight, Peltier attended a ceremony at Serpent River First Nation in Ontario with her mother, Stephanie, that, in part, inspired her future work as a water protector. At Serpent River, Peltier saw signs that warned of “toxic” drinking water. Contaminated water on reserves in Canada — caused by a variety of factors including pollution and pipeline leaks — has been an ongoing problem. During a 2019 Women of Influence interview, Autumn recalled the experience and how it affected her: “My mom explained to me that the community had been on a boiled-water advisory for over 10 years. I was shocked.” (See also Social Conditions of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)
Peltier learned about the importance of clean water and respecting the environment from her mother and great-aunt Josephine Mandamin. Mandamin was known as the “water walker” because of her years working as the Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner until her death in 2019. Peltier discussed how she has been inspired to take on the responsibility of clean-water advocacy in an interview that year with the magazine, ETFO Voice:
My aunt and mom have been teaching me about the importance of clean drinking water and how to protect the environment since I was a little girl…. I advocate for water because we all came from water and water is literally the only reason we are here today and living on this earth.
Autumn Peltier has fought for the right of people to drink clean water, whether on reserves in Canada or in the developing world. In 2016, at the annual winter meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, then-12-year-old Autumn displayed great courage in criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s clean-water policies in a face-to-face meeting: “I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made.” Trudeau replied, “I understand that. I will protect the water.”
The public “scolding” of the prime minister by such a young activist gained Peltier international media attention. Autumn shared her urgent message about water at the United Nations (UN) in New York. She spoke before the UN General Assembly for the launch of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development in 2018, and then again before the UN Global Landscapes Forum in 2019.
Since 2015, the Canadian government has lifted 88 long-term drinking advisories, as they work toward cleaning contaminated water on reserves. The federal government’s goal is to get rid of the problem by March 2021. However, as of February 2020, 61 long-term drinking water advisories remained in effect.
Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner
With the passing of her great-aunt Josephine Mandamin in February 2019, Autumn Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner, the new “water walker” of her people. Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare admitted that it was an easy choice: “Autumn has extensive nibi giikendaaswin (water knowledge). She has been bringing global attention to the water issues in our country for a few years now.”
Autumn Peltier has made positive contributions as a water-rights protector. Maclean’s magazine recognized the young activist in December 2019, naming Peltier one of Canada’s “20 people to watch in 2020.” Peltier’s name topped the list of notables, including politicians Catherine McKenna and Chrystia Freeland. The Maclean’s article noted, “As youth-led climate strikes continue globally, Peltier’s voice will undoubtedly be one of the most crucial.”
Peltier’s environmental efforts have been recognized globally as well. She was nominated for the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The award, sponsored by the international organization KidsRights, is given annually to “a child who fights courageously for children’s rights.” Peltier was also named a “Science Defender” by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2019.