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  • Writer's pictureJosey Goggin

"We can’t eat money or drink oil."

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

Not all powerful nonviolent actions are “in your face” opposition. Some come in unexpected moments of authentic emotion delivered to powerful people.

December 7, 2016 holds such a moment.

Autumn Peltier, a twelve-year-old Anishinaabe and Wikwemikong First Nation member, was chosen to present a water bundle gift[1] to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Peltier spent days hand writing a speech to deliver to him. But as she listened to the elders speaking before her, she thought about the prime minister’s recent decision to approve an oil pipeline opposed by indigenous peoples.

Instead of her prepared remarks Peltier told Trudeau “I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made.”

He responded “I understand that.”

To which Peltier simply said, “The pipelines,” and began to cry[2].

While this was a moment that raised her public profile, it was born out of years of awareness and purpose. Peltier became a Water Protecter when she was eight years old and saw her first boil water notice in a nearby community. That notice was the first time she learned there were place where the water was not safe to drink fresh from the tap. Peltier’s great-aunt Josephine Mandamin was a Water Protector and founder of the Mother Earth Water Walkers [3] who encouraged her to become involved in protecting water.

Peltier deeply understands the ways water interacts with land and fundamentally supports life. She understands what longstanding advocacy for it looks like. So when she met Trudeau, the conflict between the obvious need to protect water and the people most impacted by lack of access to it, and a man taking actions at odds with that mission gave rise to a great moment in dissent.

Peltier did not rest on her laurels after meeting Trudeau. She speaks and advocates for clean water for everyone regularly[4]. In April 2019 she was named the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and recently spoke at the UN’s recent Global Landscape’s forum a day after millions of students took to the streets in Canada to protest lack of action on climate change. She was named one of the twenty people to watch by Maclean's, won the Water Warrior Award, and was the only Canadian named to the BBC's 100 most influential women list along with Zero Hour's Jamie Margolin and Greta Thunberg.

I appreciate the authenticity of Autumn Peltier and the determination with which she continues her work when the limelight falls away. You can follow and support this young woman changing our world for the better here:


[1] No. 21: Delivering of symbolic objects

[2] No. 31: “Haunting” officials.

[3] No. 41: Pilgrimages

[4] No. 121: Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Additional resources:



#PressuresonIndividuals #NVA31 #NVA31HauntingOfficials.

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