Canadian water activist Autumn Peltier, a 13-year-old from Manitoulin Island, addresses the UN General Assembly on world water day. Her plea to protect the world’s water was part of the UN’s launch of the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. (Manuel Elias/UN Photo)
It’s time to "warrior up," stop polluting the planet and give water the same rights and protections as human beings. That’s the message Autumn Peltier, a 13-year-old Canadian, delivered personally to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday.
"Many people don’t think water is alive or has a spirit," she told the diplomats gathered in New York City in her speech on World Water Day. "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 said, her five-foot frame standing on a stool behind the podium so she could reach the microphone.
The teenager from Manitoulin Island on Georgian Bay was invited as the "representative of civil society," joining UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and other international dignitaries for the launch the UN’s International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.
The campaign by member states aims to better manage and preserve world water resources.
"Our water should not be for sale. We all have a right to this water as we need it – not just rich people, all people," Peltier added.
"No one should have to worry if the water is clean or if they will run out of water. No child should grow up not knowing what clean water is, or never know what running water is."
"It’s definitely not very common to see a 13-year old girl addressing the 193 member states of the United Nations," said the Brenden Varma, spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly.
"We’re used to having world leaders … often speaking very bureaucratic language."
Varma said hearing Peltier give such a heartfelt address was a treat for everyone in the room. "We were all very moved," he said. "She was amazing."
Henk Ovink described Peltier’s speech as inspiring and "in our faces as leaders of the world." The Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Netherlands said collaborating with those who will inherit the Earth is essential.
"It’s the young that can help us leap forward, so we have to listen to the young and implement their ideas," Ovink said.
"I wasn’t nervous because I felt like they all wanted to hear what I had to say and I felt heard," Peltier told CBC News after her address. "It’s just a great feeling to be speaking in front of world leaders."
She said it took her three days to write the speech, which she very nearly didn’t get to deliver.
Autumn’s mother, Stephanie Peltier, said she was in the middle of an email purge when the UN invitation arrived. "I said this is probably a scam, and I almost deleted it."Then their flight from Toronto was cancelled three times. So she and her mother ended up driving all the way to New York City — a 15-hour trip."I am really proud," said Peltier, who is a single parent. "I never imagined I’d be sitting here with her speaking at the United Nations."Peltier takes part in a water ceremony on Manitoulin Island in March. Her mother Stephanie has instilled a strong sense of her traditional culture. (Evan Mitsui/CBC) Water advocate This wasn’t Peltier’s first speech — the resident of the Wikwemikong Unceded Territory has become a well-known advocate for safe drinking water for Indigenous communities and clean waterways in Canada.She attended the 2015 Children’s […]
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