March 22 is designated as World Water Day – an annual UN observance day highlighting the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources with sponsored events around the world.
Here in Canada, the Water Docs Film Festival organization in Toronto honoured 14-year-old Autumn Peltier with the Water Docs 2019 World Water Warrior Award for her continued work in world water issues.
Autumn is a young lady from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and is Canada’s youngest water activist. She has been raising awareness of water issues, participating in sacred water walks, and spoken at more than 200 different events while travelling around the world.
When Autumn addressed the United Nations on World Water Day 2018, she told international leaders to, “warrior up.” In her Water Doc Festival acceptance speech, Autumn said that she doesn’t do her water protection work to get award recognition.
“We do this because our water needs us now. Everything needs water,” said Autumn. “Our work will continue, as everyone, every child, every plant, every insect, and every animal deserves clean drinking water.”
First Nations Drum asked Autumn what she’s been doing since we interviewed her in September 2017. At that time she was in the running for the International Children’s Peace Prize, where she was among the top three. “I spent my World Water Day at home. I have been so busy and I’m still grieving the passing of my auntie Josephine Mandamin,” said Autumn. “I needed to spend my day doing what I needed to do for myself and remember my auntie, why I started advocating, and how I will proceed.”
She said that the state of our water in Canada and around the globe is in a crisis. As of April 2016, there were 78 long-term drinking water advisories affecting First Nations public water systems. As of July 2018, 34 (44 percent) of these long-term drinking water advisories were removed. The greatest number of advisories (11) was lifted in February 2018.
Drinking water advisories are public health protection notifications about real or potential health risks related to drinking water. Autumn says that when one “boil water advisory” is resolved, another one pops up. “Our water ain’t getting any better,” said Autumn. “Politicians can actually put things into action; no more talking and no more promises. What are you doing? What will you do to help the state of our water?”
I asked Autumn if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lived up to his promise when he told her, “I understand that and I will protect the water.” She said that her faith in the Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership is not good right now. “He bought a pipeline and approved it. My people are suffering in BC, and the waters are at risk,” said Autumn. “I know things take time, but our people have had boil water advisories longer than I’ve been alive, and that should not be.”
Autumn said she’ll continue to advocate for the protection of water but while this is important, schools is even more essential. “I’m in grade nine and it’s really hard to keep up with my studies, and sometimes it’s hard to travel. I don’t like missing school,” explained Autumn.
Stephanie Peltier is Autumn’s mother and she says her hopes for Autumn as a water protector is that her daughter makes a difference in people’s thinking about water’s Sacredness and the seriousness of climate change.
“Also that she inspires more youth to think seriously about their future and the future of drinkable water around the globe,” said Peltier. “Autumn being at a young age still, my hopes is that her dreams come true to become a lawyer so she can fight for her peoples’ Human Rights and the lands and the waters, and for all the experience she is gaining at a young age to keep her on a good path.”
I asked Peltier if teens and friends of Autumn understand the important job her daughter is doing. “I believe teens are now learning and using their voices to create change. Autumn gets mail and messages from others her age,” said Pelter. “My advice is not just as a mother to a water protector, it’s as a parent of a child that had questions. When your child asks questions, answer as best as you can, listen to the concerns and refer them to people who know more than yourself. Always encourage your child and support them as much as you can because we only have one chance to make a difference in our child’s lives.”
Some quick facts: Canada ranks as one of the top consumers of water. Eleven liters (three gallons) run from the average tap per minute.