On September 28, 2019, Autumn Peltier, a 15-year-old is a Canadian clean water activist from the Wiikwemkoong First Nation, addressed the UN’s Global Landscape Forum in Manhattan. Peltier—who was named as the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation in April 2019—paid tribute to her aunt, Josephine Mandamin, a longtime water activist who passed away earlier this year, and she told the forum about the sacredness of water, concluding, “We can’t eat money, and we can’t drink oil.”
Peltier’s speech followed shortly after students around the globe went on strike to call attention to climate change. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teenaged Swedish environmental activist who initiated a strike outside the Swedish Parliament while school was in session, young people from more than one hundred countries flooded the streets in order to increase awareness of what Thunberg calls a “climate crisis.”
While some have compared Peltier to Thunberg, CTV News reported that “school is a priority” for Peltier, who limits herself to one speaking engagement per in order to avoid missing too many classes.
Establishment media attention has focused on Greta Thunberg, leaving the work of other young activists relatively unnoticed. Establishment outlets like Newsweek, CNN, and Fox have covered Thunberg’s speeches extensively, but failed to shed light on either Peltier’s address to the UN or other indigenous issues. In covering a young, white activist’s story, establishment coverage has privileged white experience over indigenous experience. Besides CBC and other Canadian news sources, Peltier has received minimal coverage from international news outlets and remains largely unreported on by major US news organizations.
“Canadian Indigenous Water Activist Autumn Peltier Addresses UN on Clean Water,” CBC/RadioCanada, September 28, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/canadian-Indigenous-water-activist-autumn-peltier-addresses-un-on-clean-water-1.5301559.
“‘We Can’t Eat Money, or Drink Oil’: Indigenous Teen Autumn Peltier Tells United Nations,” National Observer, September 29, 2019, www.nationalobserver.com/2019/09/29/news/we-cant-eat-money-or-drink-oil-indigenous-teen-autumn-peltier-tells-united-nations.
Matti, Mariam. “Indigenous Teen to Advocate for Clean Water in Canada at UN.” CTVNews, CTV News, 26 Sept. 2019, www.ctvnews.ca/canada/indigenous-teen-to-advocate-for-clean-water-in-canada-at-un-1.4610904.
Student Researchers: Travis Barrett, Cole Caplan, Daniel Murphy, Avien Peah, Annie Porter (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)