Autumn Peltier would like to speak face to face with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, again. And she knows what she would say time him.
“I would give him the same piece of my mind I gave him when I was 12,” says Peltier on the season finale of Face to Face.
Peltier, who is Anishinaabe from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on Manitoulin Island, first rose to prominence when she was just 12-years-old and told Trudeau at an Assembly of First Nations meeting she was not happy with his choices on pipeline projects.
The Liberal government had just given the green light to the Trans Mountain and Line 3, projects.
At the time, Peltier was presenting Trudeau with a water bundle. She had been told by organizers of the AFN meeting not to say anything and to just present the prime minister with the gift. Peltier says she caught herself off guard when she instead used the moment to speak up.
“It was more powered by the anger of my understanding of the First Nations water crisis and seeing it and experiencing it first hand,” says Peltier.
Watch Autumn Peltier talk about what she said to the prime minister back in 2016:
Peltier has been learning about the importance of water her entire life.
Her auntie, Josephine Mandamin, a well-known water-rights advocate, walked around the Great Lakes, raising awareness about the need for clean water.
She was also the chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, a role that Peltier now holds.
Peltier was thrust into the spotlight following that 2016 face-to-face with Trudeau. She was invited to speak at the United Nations and at events around the world. She was on the cover of magazines and became a public speaker.
Peltier says things were stressful. She was also bullied and beaten up.
“It’s definitely not been easy. It went a different way than I expected too,” says Peltier. “Being in the public eye does come with a lot of negative impacts and that is probably the hardest part of it. But, it’s also the part that makes me a lot stronger, you know make me go harder at my work is what I find.”
Still, Peltier encourages youth to stand up and speak out.
“I took the opportunity of having a voice and speaking up for my people and for the water, that does not have a voice, so, I always talk about it when I speak,” says Peltier. “I always encourage youth to use their voices because you actually don’t know how powerful you are, until you use your voice. And that’s what I learned. I had no idea I would end up where I am today.
“Eight years old, I had no idea I would be where I am right now and nor did I have any idea I would be speaking on platforms like the United Nations or in front of world leaders.”
Peltier says world leaders are always shocked and surprised when they hear her describe the water situation for First Nations in Canada. She says Canada is viewed by the outside world as a safe, rich country but feels First Nations people are treated like “animals.”
Peltier says it seems to be ok for First Nations to go 20 years without clean drinking water but if that were to happen in any Canadian city, it would result in a state of emergency, that would be handled quickly.
“First Nations are at the bottom of the list for everything and not just water,” says Peltier, who feels little has changed since she spoke up at that AFN meeting in 2016. “It’s really sad to me, to be honest. I don’t want to be doing this until the day that I die. I will if I have to but I shouldn’t have to, that’s the thing.
“My auntie Josephine, she passed away without not seeing what she wanted to see and that’s really sad to me and if I’ve dedicated my entire life to this and nothing changes, I’m going to be pretty upset about that, too.”
Peltier, who has spoken on numerous international platforms, feels most politicians, care about projecting an image, rather than taking her advice.
Peltier is set to graduate high school this year and will be attending college. She is planning a career in First Nations politics.