Autumn Peltier, age 15, in a speech to the United Nations September, 2019.
“It all started by learning why people couldn’t drink the water on Ontario indigenous lands. I was confused as Canada is not a third world country but here in my country the indigenous people live in third world conditions. Boil water advisories are still in existence and have been for over 20 years in some communities. There are children born into a world living off bottled water, living off a certain amount to do everyday things. I began to research this issue and discovered that it was all across Canada. Then I learned of places like Flint, Michigan in the USA. Then I learned the seriousness of having clean drinking water. Then it was like a light bulb went off, why my Great Auntie was doing what she did for the majority of her life, until her last breath. She brings me to what means the most to me, and what I have been learning and sharing, the sacredness of water.
From a young age, from as long as I can remember, I was raised going to ceremony with my Mother and my Auntie Josephine. I was born in Thunder Bay; Ontario and we spent a lot of time with her and my Uncle Andrew. When you ask the question about why is the water so sacred, it is not just because we need it, and nothing can survive without water, it’s because for years and years, our ancestors have passed on traditional oral knowledge that our water is alive and our water has a spirit.
Our first water teaching comes from within our own mother. We literally live in water for 9 months, floating in that sacred water that gives us life. We can’t live in our mother’s womb without water. As a fetus we need that sacred water for development. The sacred significance is that my mother comes from her mother’s water, my grandmother comes from her mother’s water, and my great-great grandmother comes from her mother’s water. Flowing within us is original water, lifeblood of Mother Earth that sustains us as we come from this land. Mother Earth’s power is in the lifeblood of Mother Earth which is our water.
Mother Earth has the power to destroy us all. And if we keep harming her one day, she may decide to destroy everything. All water is original from time immemorial. To think our ancestors drank from the same water thousands of years before us; water evaporates and can turn into mist, fog, rain, clouds, and snow. Water can go and be anywhere. We are constantly surrounded by water. Water not only surrounds us, but my teaching is that water hears us, feels us, and listens to us. When you pray to the water, our prayers are that much stronger. There are scientific studies that talk about water having spirit and feeling positive and negative thoughts. Growing up and understanding how everything is connected to water and how vital our waterways are is amazing in itself.
My people still live off the land, we eat wild game, we harvest medicines from the lands, our waterways are vital in giving millions clean drinking water. Unlike several Canadian indigenous communities across Canada and United States, and international countries in third world conditions where they don’t have access to clean drinking water; I can’t even imagine what it is like to be dependent on bottled water. I visited a northern community called Attawapiskat which is located on the James Bay, and I spoke to kids and they shared their concerns and what it was like for them. No child should have to experience not knowing what its like, what clean running water is. This makes me upset. This is why I am here today. I’ve been raised in the traditional way and knowing my territory and the waters around my country and the issues my people face.
I have heard of places like Flint, Michigan, Six Nations of the Grand River all across these lands, we know somewhere where someone can’t drink the water. Why so many and why have they gone without water so long. I shared my thoughts with our Prime Minister, and he promised me in 2016 he will look after the water, and as a youth I will hold him or any future leader to the promise for my people. Children in northern Ontario communities right now still can’t drink their water. Water is a basic human right. We all need to think about the planet and work together on solutions to reduce the impacts of human negligence. One solution that resonates with me is a story my grandfather shared with me. My grandfather is going to be 74. He told me when he was a little boy there was no plastic. There was no such thing as a straw or saran wrap, or Ziploc bags. There was no foil, no disposable plastic existed, he said they preserved everything, they stored food in the ground in cellars used salt and blocks of ice. He said everything was good, everything was wood or glass. They rescued everything they could because they had no choice. So why can’t we ban all plastics and go back to the old way and work for our daily living. That’s an inexpensive solution by trying to be more environmentally friendly and do the work.
My ancestors were hard workers. My people survived without electricity and what we see today. Why can’t we go back to our ways? I’m sure everyone in this room has heard a story from their grandparents of how hard they worked and how they lived. I know I hear when I listen to the elders; they share stories for a reason as they are our teachers. Maybe we need to have more elders and youths together sitting at the decision table when people make decisions about our lands and waters.
I have said it once and I will say it again ‘we can’t eat money or drink oil.’ In closing we need to protect the habitants around all waters across the world, and we need to remember that our ancestors’ prayers are still protecting this land and that we are our ancestors’ hope. One day I will be an ancestor and I want my descendants to know that I used my voice so that they can have a future. We need to join forces with all nations regardless of colour and nationality. Mother Earth does not discriminate, and we need Mother Earth to live and we need the waters. When we stand together as one; we are one voice and one nation. And to save our planet let’s do this for our great grandchildren. Thank you, Miigwech.