Fighting for Clean Water

Autumn Peltier is standing up for indigenous people in Canada—and for a resource we all need to survive.

Autumn, 15, is spreading the message that clean water is a basic human right.

The Inspiration: When Autumn Peltier was 8 years old, she was visiting a community in Ontario, Canada, called Serpent River First Nation. (“First Nation” is a term used for indigenous communities in Canada.) When she went to the bathroom, she noticed warnings saying that the water wasn’t safe.

The community was under a boil water advisory: Their tap water was contaminated and needed to be boiled for at least a minute before they could drink it or even use it to brush their teeth. In Canada, many First Nation communities have been living with water advisories for decades.

Autumn, now 15, is a member of an indigenous community called Wikwemikong First Nation. She grew up with clean water, but it infuriated her to learn that many First Nation communities didn’t have access to something so basic and necessary, especially since Canada borders the Great Lakes, which contain 18 percent of the world’s fresh water. The Canadian government regulates most of the country’s water supply but not the water for First Nation communities. Problems with water treatment systems and pollution from toxic chemicals often make First Nations’ water supply unsafe.

The Action: Autumn started working with her great-aunt, water activist Josephine Mandamin. At an Assembly of First Nations meeting in 2016, Autumn tearfully begged Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to protect Canada’s water. She’s spoken at the United Nations (U.N.) in New York City twice, and attended the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland. She’s sharing the message that clean water is a basic human right.

Last year, Autumn was named the chief water commissioner for Anishinabek Nation, a group of 40 First Nations across Ontario. The position involves visiting First Nation communities and speaking publicly on their behalf. She hopes to persuade the government to improve the safety of the water for First Nation communities so the advisories can become a thing of the past.

Fighting For Clean Water
Watch a video of Autumn Peltier’s speech to the U.N.

The Outcome: More than 80 water advisories have been removed since 2015, and Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to end all advisories in First Nation communities by 2021. But Autumn’s fight isn’t over: Dozens of communities still lack access to clean water. So Autumn will keep speaking out. As she told the U.N. in 2018, “One day, I will be an ancestor, and I want my great-grandchildren to know I tried hard to fight so they could have clean drinking water.”

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