Everyone knows of Greta Thunberg. We have seen her berate world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, and most of us have seen the infamous photo of her glaring down our president. But few have heard of Autumn Peltier.
Peltier is a 15-year-old water activist, the chief water commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation and a member of the Wik- wemikong First Nation in Canada. She has been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize three separate times and is known for calling out Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for failing to provide clean water to First Nations communities and green-lighting pipeline projects that threaten fresh water.
Her message to the United Nations on Sept. 28 has about 10,000 views on Youtube, while Thunberg’s has over 3 million. Despite being from Sweden, Thunberg has dominated U.S. and European media outlets. Peltier’s coverage comes almost exclusively from Canada, her home country.
I don’t bring these issues up to pit one activist against another; they are both doing very important work. However, if you are following Thunberg, make sure you also follow Peltier and other activists of color.
National Geographic reported in 2018 that Indigenous people, while making up less than 5% of the world’s population, hold and maintain around 80% of the world’s biodiversity. As we saw with Standing Rock, the Keystone Pipeline in Canada, and currently the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, Indigenous people have always fought for the rights of our Earth.
Many activists of color fight for the communities that are the most directly affected by issues regarding climate, water and overall livelihood. For Peltier, her activism started when she realized how many First Nations communities in Canada are living without clean water. According to Vice Media, 56 First Nation communities are in a boil advisory, meaning water needs to be boiled to avoid contamination.
Peltier is not the only young activist of color speaking up for the earth and her people. Mari Copeny (@LittleMissFlint on Twitter) is 12 years old and has been raising awareness and funds for Flint, Michigan’s ongoing water crisis. Xiye Bastida, 17, has been working to ensure that marginalized and Indigenous people have a voice in the climate movement since she and her family moved from Mexico to New York four years ago. She was at the Climate Strike alongside Thunberg outside the U.N. headquarters in New York just a few weeks ago.
Activists and people of color deserve just as much of a voice in the climate movement as everyone else, and probably even more. Many of our communities are the first to see the effects and, unlike much of society, we don’t have the luxury of picking up and leaving, because this is our home and we will not abandon it.
When people of color stand up for our communities, we can only do so much when our message is not being heard. We need mainstream society to boost us up the same way you boost up Greta Thunberg, the same way you boost up everyone else, otherwise our fight will continue to fall on deaf ears. You want to be a good ally? Start there.