By Rick Garrick
Wiikwemkoong’s Autumn Peltier looks forward to speaking to world leaders about protecting the water at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on March 22, 2018. She was invited to speak at the UN for the declaration of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, which runs from March 22, 2018 to March 22, 2028.
“That’s really a huge honour,” says Peltier, a Grade 8 student at Pontiac School in Wiikwemkoong and great-niece of Water Walker Josephine Mandamin. “It will be a great experience having the opportunity to speak to world leaders at a high level. I know that when I speak to them I will be heard, and those are the people that are the ones who make the change. So it’s going to be an awesome experience and I’m really excited for it.”
Stephanie Peltier, Peltier’s mother, says the request for her daughter to speak at the UN was “amazing.”
“I’m really proud of her,” Stephanie says. “She does a lot of work, and we’re busy. If we said yes to all the requests that come in, we probably could be travelling once a week for the rest of the year.”
Stephanie says her focus is to keep Peltier balanced through all of the work she is doing.
“She is very much still a 13-year-old,” Stephanie says. “Last night they had friends here sleeping over and we were baking cookies. She still has time to be herself. And then she balances the time where she does the work she needs to do.”
Stephanie says her daughters have spent a lot of time with Mandamin over the years.
“We just saw her last weekend in Parry Sound, where Autumn and her were both speaking at a storyteller’s festival,” Stephanie says. “So that is one bonus about all of this, that they are ending up at the same places and they are doing work together.”
Peltier says it is important to get involved with Mandamin’s work in calling for the protection of water. Mandamin has walked around all five of the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River and along other lakes and rivers with a copper pail of water to raise awareness about the need to protect the water.
“I just kind of took it in as my new job because who’s going to do it when she can’t,” Peltier says. “And if nobody else is going to do it, the work is just going to stop and all of the hard work she has been doing will be lost.”
Stephanie says Peltier’s role will require “a lot of travelling and advocacy.”
“We live a healthy, traditional lifestyle, so it doesn’t seem like it is going to be that much work,” Stephanie says. “I support Autumn more than 100 per cent because I know how important (her work) is. I’ve been there with Aunt Josephine on her Water Walks. I was there on her first one, so I know how important it is for our people and the environment.”
Peltier will also be recognized with a Governor General of Canada Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which recognizes the exceptional volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields, on Jan. 26.
“When I found out I was getting the Governor General’s award, I was really excited,” Peltier says. “I basically didn’t know what to think because it is a huge honour to get this award, and not many children have had the opportunity to receive this award.”