APTN National News
For three days Autumn Peltier, 12, worked on a speech she hoped to deliver in the presence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the Assembly of First Nations annual winter gathering.
Autumn’s mother spent 18 hours making her a water dress for the occasion.
When the time came on the stage Tuesday before several hundred people gathered in the conference hall at the Hilton Lac Leamy Casino in Gatineau, Que., Autumn had only mere moments measured in heartbeats to give her message to the prime minister.
“When I went up there, I was standing with the Elder, listening to what he was saying and I was told to give the prime minister the water bundle,” said Autumn. “And I said something to him. I said, ‘I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made.’ And he said, ‘I understand that.’ And I started crying and all I got say after that was, ‘The pipelines.’”
Autumn said Trudeau, who is also minister of youth, told her, “I will protect the water.”
She handed him the water bundle of a copper bowl, a red cloth, tobacco and a small copper cup.
Autumn said she didn’t know if Trudeau would keep his word to protect the water.
“It is kind of hard to say. I hope he will,” said Autumn, who is from Wikwemikong, a First Nation on Manitoulin Island in Ontario. “I can’t really say he will or not. I can just pray he will protect the water.”
The Trudeau Liberal government recently approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline replacement. Both projects, once completed, will combined pump about 1.7 million barrels of bitumen per day.
In her speech, which was handwritten on three pages, Autumn said she trusts in prayer and tobacco.
“I should not be standing here right now worrying about my future and my children and grandchildren’s future,” she said, in her speech. “I have trust and belief in my prayers, leadership and tobacco, especially after many of our tribal nations gathering at Standing Rock, where we had victory.”
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe declared a temporary victory on Sunday after the Army Corps of Engineers decided not to grant an easement under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River, to the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In the speech, she said it was time to stop “terrorizing mother earth and give her time to heal.” She said like the nations “came together for Standing Rock” they should unite to protect the water.
“It breaks my heart when I hear broken promises made by the federal government,” said Autumn, in the speech. “Our lands have been through enough, and from what I’ve been learning this land is not for sale.”
Autumn was invited to participate in the introduction of Trudeau by AFN Ontario regional Chief Isadore Day. The prime minister spoke to the AFN assembly on Tuesday.
Day did not want to weigh in on the criticism leveled against the AFN by renowned Métis artist Christi Belcourt who expressed frustration with the organization for not letting Autumn deliver her speech. Day said what was important was the bundle that Autumn gave Trudeau.
On her Facebook page, Belcourt posted a photo of Autumn about to hand the water bundle to Trudeau.
“This photo speaks a 1,000 words to me about what children and young people are asking for and the unwillingness to listen,” wrote Belcourt alongside the photo. “Today Autumn Peltier told the PM she was unhappy with him and his decision on Kinder Morgan. She told him the waters need protecting….She had a speech, but wasn’t given the time to speak. They wanted her to only present the gift. What a huge loss that we didn’t take the time to listen to this young girl speak as what she has to say is powerful.”
Belcourt’s post had over 570 shares as of Tuesday night.