Indigenous Success Stories: Métis

August 31, 2022

First Nations

Healthy First Nations and Autumn Peltier

Indigenous community, water advocates, moving ahead on drinking water solutions

City TV News: An innovative way to bring clean water to indigenous communities is being installed in homes at a reserve not far from Toronto. The project is an early step in a plan that advocates hope will eventually spread across Canada. “Water is a basic human right no matter how rich or poor we are, where we come from, what the colour of our skin is we all deserve clean drinking water,” said water rights advocate Autumn Peltier.

Twenty-seven Indigenous communities across Canada are currently living under long-term drinking water advisories, and even in communities without advisories, getting access to clean water isn’t always easy.

Peltier is an ambassador for the Dreamcatcher Foundation, which is working with Healthy First Nations to install temporary filters house-by-house in Six Nations of the Grand River. The reserve of 13,000 residents is the most populous in the country, and located about 30 minutes from Hamilton.

“Water to me is one of the most important teachings I ever received growing up because Indigenous culture, Ojibway culture, in this area of Canada, water is the most important element to our beliefs,” noted Peltier. The 17-year-old water warrior has been fighting to get clean drinking water to all of Canada’s Indigenous communities for nearly a decade.

She first captured the world’s attention at 12 years old, when she spoke at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. Peltier, who is from Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and gave him the gift of a water bundle, and a message.

“I didn’t plan on saying anything that I said but in that moment, I just felt a strong feeling of passion towards talking about advocating for [water,]” explained Peltier. “He reached into grab it, I pulled back and I said ‘I’m really unhappy with the choices you made and broken promises to my people.’ and he said ‘I understand that.’ I started crying probably because of the overwhelming situation, and he said, ‘I will protect the water.”

Autumn Peltier with Justin Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations in 2017.
Autumn Peltier with Justin Trudeau at the Assembly of First Nations in 2017. FACEBOOK/Perry Bellegarde

Six years later, and one year past the government’s self-imposed deadline to end long-term boil water advisories, Peltier said the progress has been uneven.

Peltier said the idea that First Nations communities are living in such conditions in a wealthy nation is difficult to come to terms with. “That blows my mind. It’s 2022,” she said. “It’s sad. It’s heartbreaking because if this was to happen in Toronto, Ottawa or any mainstream city or area, think about how fast they would resolve that issue If they weren’t able to drink the water.”

“If this was to happen in Toronto, Ottawa or any mainstream city or area, think about how fast they would resolve that issue If they weren’t able to drink the water.”

“I’ve been doing this since I was 8 years old and I turn 18 next month and very little has happened and changed since then,” she said. “I believe it’s something that is going to take a very long time to resolve. My aunt Josephine was doing this till the day she died,” said Peltier. “I don’t want to be doing this when I’m 70 years old.”

The office of Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, tells CityNews the government has lifted 135 long-term advisories since 2015, and prevented 223 short-term advisories from becoming long-term. The government adds Canadians can expect most remaining long-term drinking water advisories to be lifted within the next 12 months.

“We live in a time where everyone deserves the right to clean drinking water and I guess my hope is that if we can’t resolve the issue completely, we can work towards finding solutions,” shared Peltier.

Peltier is working with the Dreamcatcher Foundation as an ambassador for their temporary filtration program. Peltier tells CityNews that she is helping raise awareness of their work. “It’s come to a point where we have to take it into our own hands, because the government won’t do anything or they just take years to do anything, so it’s kind of a temporary solution for Indigenous communities.”

Beverly Maracle, who has lived on the Six Nations of Grand River reserve for most of her life, recently had one of the temporary water filters installed at her kitchen sink. The same day, she poured herself her first glass of water, directly from her tap. “Water is very important to Indigenous people,” she noted. “Water is medicine to Indigenous people and we need water for life. So water is life.” 

Bryan Porter, a Visionary Leader and Shakohen:te’s from Six Nations who is a board member with Dreamcatcher Foundation, also noted water’s importance in Indigenous culture. “I would say we would consider water to be a living organism. It has memory and it guides so much of everything else that we do,” he explained.

“A lot of our ceremonies have to do with the crop cycle. Of course, you can’t have crops without water. It’s so important to everything,” he said, adding it’s particularly difficult for community members not to be able to safely consume water from their own river. “It’s tough to move ahead when you can’t take the first step, which is the very necessity of life, having water.”

August 10, 2022

First Nations

Autumn Peltier, clean water activist is captivating global audiences

CNN: Seventeen-year-old Canadian indigenous rights activist and designated “water protector” Autumn Peltier is empowering young people to protect the environment. As the chief water commissioner for Anishinabek Nation, she has spent nearly half her life speaking about the importance of clean water to organizations including the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. Peltier, who grew up in Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, first became aware of the need for water advocacy at just eight years old. When visiting a neighboring indigenous community, she discovered that they were unable to drink their tap water due to pollution. That kickstarted her career as an activist.

“I believe that no matter what race or color, (or) how rich poor we are, everybody deserves clean drinking water,” she says. “You don’t have to be indigenous to respect (water) or raise awareness for it.”

At 12 years old, Peltier made headlines for scolding Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau about his failure to enact policies that preserve clean water. Since then, she has spoken to world leaders at the UN General Assembly and the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit. She was also nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize three times.

“You wouldn’t generally think a kid or a young person would speak up about world issues or political issues,” says Peltier. “That’s why it’s so much more powerful — because that’s how you know something is wrong.”