By Colin Burrowes
It’s inspiring to see young people taking to the streets in an attempt to affect change for their future. Perhaps it is easier for them to think about how to fix the problems we’ve created on this planet because they are less likely to be thinking about how to pay their bills at the same time. It seems like fiscal responsibility and being responsible about how we treat our environment are not always seen as being compatible.
When this year’s list of the BBC’s 100 most influential women emerged on Oct. 16, one Canadian made the list, 15-year-old Autumn Peltier. Peltier is Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation and she has become an internationally recognized advocate for clean water.
She began water advocacy at the age of eight, inspired by her late, great aunt Josephine Mandamin, a water walker who served as her mentor. Since 2003, Mandamin has walked the shorelines of all the Great Lakes, around 27,500 kilometres, completing her last water walk in the summer of 2017.
Peltier gained national and international attention at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. She presented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a copper water pot, and although she did not have time to deliver her prepared speech, she confronted Trudeau on his record on water protection and his support for pipelines. Inspired by her actions, the Assembly of First Nations created the Niabi (water) Odacidae fund.
Peltier lives on the Unceded Anishinaabe Territory on Manitoulin Island. Her advocacy was sparked while attending a ceremony at the Serpent River Reservation, when she saw a warning sign against drinking the water, and learned that not all people in Canada have access to clean drinking water.
In April 2019, Peltier was named the chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation, a position previously held by her great-aunt.
Then, in September 2019, Peltier was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize. She was also invited to speak at the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York, in 2018 and 2019.
The BBC’s 100 Women project began in 2013 and has celebrated some of the world’s brightest female role models and trailbreakers. It began after a 2012 gang rape incident in South Delhi, India, when BBC controller Liliane Landor and editor Fiona Crack decided that women’s issues needed more attention.
Peltier’s name appears on this year’s 100 Women list alongside other young women dedicated to environmental activism, such as Jamie Margolin, a 17-year-old climate change activist from Seattle who started Zero Hour, a climate change movement, as well as 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has been making headlines recently for her climate advocacy around the world.
It’s not easy for all of us working stiffs to get out there and affect change like these inspirational young women, but most of us will admit that within our lifetime weather patterns have changed, and most of the time it has not been for the better. When the children we are working so hard to provide for are starting to sue the government, not for monetary gain, but to force action, perhaps we have to ask ourselves, what more can we do for them?