My Water Message for the World

Autumn Peltier is a 16-year old
Anishinabek Nation Commissioner
giving water a voice

“My job has been to give water a voice, because we need to protect water for our future and futures to come.”

-Autumn Peltier

Who am I?

Bozhoo! My Anishinaabe Name is Mskwaagiizo-Kwe (Redmoon Woman), I am Migizi dodem (Eagle Clan), I am also known as Autumn Peltier.  I come from the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Anishinaabe Territory also known as Wiky on Manitoulin Island. I am 16 years old and in Grade 11.   I am the middle sister — I have an older sister, Naomi, and a younger sister, Ciara. My mom Stephanie raises me as a single parent and helps coordinate and manage my work. I have a cat named “Achilles,” he likes to attend my zoom meetings as much as possible.

What role do I hold?

I am the Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner. The Anishinabek Nation is a political advocate for 39 First Nations across Ontario, Canada.  I have been in this role for two years now.

I began shortly after my late, Great Aunt Josephine Mandamin passed away. During her lifetime, she served as the Chief Water Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation’s Women’s Water Commission. I was asked to take on her role and to carry on the work to protect our waters. She was one of my main mentors when I began to advocate for the water as a young child.

As the Water Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation,  I have a seat at the leadership table to help with decisions in protecting the waters that lead in and out of the Great Lakes. I actively help protect waterways, invasive species at risk, ground waters and ecosystems helping to shape policy and by supporting and advocating for First Nations communities.


Who held it before and what water teachings did I receive?

My late, Great Aunt Josephine Mandamin (Biidaasige) held the position of Chief Water Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation before me.  She is also the creator of the “Water Walks,” that are now happening all over the world and are intended to raise public awareness that we are currently in a freshwater crisis. She began her Water Walk journey back in 2003, before I was born, when she walked around all the Great Lakes  to increase awareness that our waters are becoming sick.  My mom was one of her helpers in the early beginnings and was her Shkwabewis (Traditional helper) at ceremonies. 

I was brought up around ceremonies my whole life and travelled all over to attend Midewin ceremonies, even when I was still in my mom’s belly. We lived in Thunder Bay, where I was born, and we were always at my great aunt and uncle’s home visiting or attending ceremonies. My aunt taught me about what my role is as a woman and guided me through my Berry Fast. She would sit with me and share stories about her travels and teachings and about the sacredness of water.

She shared with me that our first water teaching happens inside our mother’s womb.  We live in her waters for nine months and when the water breaks, new life comes.  She also told me that when we are born women, our role is to protect the waters as we are the ones that bring new life into the world.  She shared with me that everything has a spirit, that water is alive and that is why we protect all living things.  Mother Earth doesn’t need us, she’s been here for thousands of years.  She endures so much from corporations and industry and yet is still surviving through the destruction. 

The most memorable teaching my great aunt told me was to never give up, always be respectful and to stand up for yourself and for what you believe in. She taught me to use my voice and to never stop loving the water. We need to keep what fresh water we have left safe, because if we don’t, there won’t be any clean water left and we won’t survive. Everything needs water to live and grow, including us. Our bodies are mostly made up of water and we need water for survival. These are some of the most important things she shared with me.

“The Elders have said that, one day, water will cost more than a barrel of oil or more than the price of gold. We shouldn’t have to buy water or fight over it.”

My message for the world, right now. 

The Elders have said that, one day, water will cost more than a barrel of oil or more than the price of gold.  We shouldn’t have to buy water or fight over it.  Mother Earth gives of herself so freely.  She doesn’t have a voice.  Water doesn’t have a voice.  My job has been to give water a voice, because we need to protect water for our future and futures to come. The decisions we make today will have an impact on our great grandchildren.  If we don’t do something now, there may not even be a future for the ones coming behind us.  We have to act today, not in a few months, today!  My auntie was 77 when she passed and she spent the last 20 years of her life advocating for clean water.  I hope that when I am 77, I am still trying to fight for our rights and for the rights of water. I hope that I am even able to see the age of 77 at all. We can’t just let things get buried in papers and bureaucracy and take 10 to 20 years to see change.  Make the change happen today.  The water crisis is a global issue and we need to work together. We need to unite and join forces with all Indigenous peoples across all our lands to save our future and save our water.  Give Water a voice. Our waters deserve to have their own rights!

What do we have to do to protect our water? 

We have to come together, all ages, all nations, and use our voices.  We need to advocate for water to be recognized and to have its own rights.  There are still people who don’t care or don’t see water and lands as we do.  Indigenous people have a connection to the land because we live off the land and depend on the land.  We have to push the Canadian government to help the communities that are still on boil water advisories and for the communities that are isolated in the North.  We also need to begin teaching the kids what our roles and responsibilities are at a younger age. These teachings should be shared in Kindergarten and grades 1-4.

What will happen if we don’t protect the water?

If we do not protect the water, our clean water will get harder and harder to find.  If the waters are sick and the animals drink this water, then we will become sick because we eat the animals. The plants need water to grow and we need their medicines and vegetation.  Whole ecosystems depend on water and the chain reaction effect will happen if water is not protected and slowly things will die.  It won’t take long for the planet to get sick and we may all die.  We only have about 10 years to try to correct this. If we don’t,  our planet won’t have much time left.  If we work together and increase the number of advocates, our water and our planet will have a chance. 

What do I see in the world right now?

Right now, there are still pipelines being built. There are oil pipelines eroding and if they break the spill will have drastic effects on what clean waters we have left.  There is also a lot of racism still alive and thriving in the world. That racism still impacts people of colour everyday all over the world and it turns into environmental racism, systemic racism, social racism, and political racism. We are always up against this wall and it impacts our people. It impacts our communities, our and our land and water.  This is one of our biggest barriers to having access to clean drinking water all across our lands.  Our voices need to be heard and things need to change.  This is a new time and a new world and we have our great grandchildren to think of.

How does the water speak to me?

It’s more of a feeling and once you have a connection to water, you get to know water.  When I visit different bodies of water, I can get a sense of how it feels.  You get to know the water by how it smells, what it looks like and what the shoreline looks like as well.  You can also tell how the water is by the things that grow around it and if there are animals or species present.  The water has its own whole world within it.  People that study the waters know this and they can see it as well.  The water is not only sad, but it is scared, and we need to protect it.  My auntie always visited the waters and she would go into the waters as well, wherever she visited. 

We also have to honour the spirits that take care of the water.  This is why we do ceremonies for the waters. We also do it in honor of the spirits that protect the water.  We do this by having feasts and giving offerings as well as with the water ceremony. There is a lot we do for the waters and the protectors and this needs to continue.

We can’t drink money and we can’t eat oil.  We shouldn’t have to pay for water and everyone should have access to clean drinking water all around the world.  Keep advocating, keep going and do this for the planet.  We do this for the water and we do this for our future!