2019 Pollution Probe GalaRising Star Award

At its inception, Pollution Probe was an organization founded by students to address environmental issues that were being ignored or poorly handled by the “powers-that-be” – primarily polluted air and polluted water. Now, 50 years on, Pollution Probe continues to recognize and elevate the work of young people trying to affect positive environmental change by taking action in their homes, communities, schools and beyond.

To celebrate the vital work of young people in the environmental sphere, Pollution Probe’s 50th Anniversary Gala saw the introduction of a new Award – the Rising Star Award for leadership and outstanding achievement by a youth or youth initiative with an environmental focus. We received many worthy nominees, but our winner by unanimous choice is Autumn Peltier, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner, water warrior and climate activist. 

Autumn Peltier is a 15-year-old Anishinaabekwe and citizen of Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, a member First Nation of the Anishinabek Nation located on Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario. She is a water protector, also referred to as a Water Warrior, who has been advocating for the protection of Nibi (water) and Mother Earth since the age of eight. She was inspired and mentored by her Great Auntie Josephine Mandamin, former Chief Water Commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation. She is rooted and guided by the Seven Grandfather Teachings in all of her endeavors.

Autumn has gained national and international recognition and uses that platform to emphasize the connection of the Anishinabek to the land and water and their role to protect the lifeline of Mother Earth, and brings to the forefront the need for clean water for First Nations in Canada. Autumn understands that the work to protect Nibi and Mother Earth must happen immediately in order to secure a future for the next generations to come.

Autumn was appointed as the Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner in June 2019 where she will be representing the Anishinabek Nation on all matters as they relate to water. Autumn is a three-time nominee for the International Children’s Peace Price; a nominee for the 2019 Muhammed Ali Humanitarian Award; recipient of 2017 Canadian Living Me to We Award Youth in Action under 12; recipient of the Sovereign Medal of Exceptional Volunteerism in 2017; recipient of 2017 Ontario Junior Citizens Award; 2018 Ottawa Riverkeeper Award; recipient of the 2019 Water Warrior Award from Ecologos; recognized as one of 30 under 30 by North America for Environmental Education; and was named in the 100 Most Influential People in the World for Climate Change Policy in 2019.

In a powerful acceptance speech, Autumn reminded her audience of their responsibility as individuals to protect the land and water they live on and to have respect for the sacredness of Mother Earth, who sustains all life. Pointing out that readily available clean water is often taken for granted by many Canadians, when in fact there are many Indigenous communities without access it it, she reiterated that questions must be asked about “why so many, and why have they gone without water for so long?”

Recalling that she was introduced to teachings about the Earth and water from an extremely young age, making her an activist at the age of eight, she stressed the necessity of involving young people and elders in environmental decision-making so that vital sources of wisdom and important perspectives are included in these important and world-shaping conversations.

In addition to accepting the Rising Star Award at the Gala, Autumn was also a featured panelist at the pre-Gala Conference, providing perspectives on the fourth  Conference theme, ‘Society and Politics.’ Explaining that the availability of water is a human right but also often a political issue, she also called for a drastic stance on the issue of plastics and a shift to alternatives, much like the materials that Canada’s indigenous peoples have used for centuries.

Ms. Peltier’s work is truly inspirational, and her contributions to the Conference were invaluable. We are grateful for her voice and insights and honoured to present her with the Pollution Probe Rising Star Award. We are certain that there are even greater things on the horizon for this exceptional young leader.