The countries of the world must “warrior up”, stop polluting the planet, and accord water the same rights and protections as human beings, 13-year-old Autumn Peltier of Wikwemikong First Nation told the 193 member states of the United Nations, at a session last week to mark World Water Day.
“Many people don’t think water is alive or has a spirit,” Peltier said, but “my people believe this to be true. Our water deserves to be treated as human, with human rights. We need to acknowledge our waters with personhood so we can protect our waters.”
Peltier, invited to address the UN General Assembly as a civil society representative, added that “no one should have to worry if the water is clean or if they will run out of water,” and “no child should grow up not knowing what clean water is or never know what running water is. We all have a right to this water as we need it—not just rich people, all people.”
She added: “One day I will be an ancestor, and I want my great-grandchildren to know I tried hard to fight so they can have clean drinking water.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres noted that, by 2050, at least one in four people will live in countries where a lack of fresh water is “chronic or recurrent”. Already, more than 2.1 billion people—some of them in Indigenous communities in Canada—lack safe drinking water at home.
Gutteres spokesperson Brenden Varma told CBC it’s “definitely not very common to see a 13-year old girl addressing the 193 member states of the United Nations.” The UN is “used to having world leaders…often speaking very bureaucratic language,” he added. That made Peltier’s “heartfelt” address a “treat for everyone in the room,” CBC notes.
“We were all very moved,” Verma said. “She was amazing.”