Autumn Peltier, Manitoulin’s most famous teen

A 2017 photo of Autumn by Wiikwemkooong’s own Linda Roy.

Reflects on the pros and cons of her new-found prominence

WIIKWEMKOONG – Wiikwemkoong water walker Autumn Peltier has quickly found herself the subject of global attention following her rapid rise to fame as an advocate for the protection of clean water. Autumn gave The Expositor a glimpse inside the difficult world of balancing high school and the everyday challenges of being a 15-year-old with the often exhausting extra responsibility of holding a public position.

“It does really get overwhelming sometimes because there’s a lot of people that want interviews. It does come to a point where I don’t really want to do them; I almost get annoyed. But they’re also another way to get my message out, so that’s how I have to look at it,” said Autumn.

When someone reaches celebrity status for any reason, whether for their advocacy work or for having the latest hit single, it is easy for outsiders to simply view them as an agent for the public eye. But Autumn, as is nearly any celebrity thrust into this status, is first and foremost a real person with pre-existing commitments, her own challenges and aspirations aside from the advocacy work that has given her fame.

“People often don’t realize that I go to high school, my mom works full time and we can’t go to a lot of places. People say, ‘oh, can’t you cancel that other thing and come here?’ which is not that easy. It gets overwhelming,” said Autumn.

Autumn’s mom, Stephanie Peltier, has taken on a role similar to an agent and helps to co-ordinate the many requests that come forth. However, she’s a mother first and seeing the impacts of the hectic schedule can be difficult for Ms. Peltier.

“Sometimes she doesn’t even like interviews. It’s been hard to ask her to participate,” said Ms. Peltier. “She has been interviewed so many times and the documentary ones she doesn’t like because it’s personal and in our private space.”

Ms. Peltier said Autumn holds close to 25 outstanding requests for documentaries, a similar number for book deals, 30 magazine interview requests and hundreds of inquiries about speaking engagements.

“She gets overwhelmed and so do I; some days, we even turn off the notifications,” said Ms. Peltier, adding with a laugh that her email inbox contains an absurd number of unread messages. “It can consume me and we can’t possibly get to every event or every (interview) request.”

To help manage the time constraints, the Peltiers try to arrange any speaking or interview requests at a time such that they can be bunched together outside of her other commitments.

“It sometimes interferes with my personal time, like hanging out with my friends, but we try to do (interviews) now, in the evening when I’m not normally busy,” she said.

But some things simply can’t be managed within the schedule. Recently, the Peltiers travelled to New York City for a shoot with RIKA Magazine, Vogue had requested a shoot and there were numerous others.

Then there are the Skype meetings and teleconferences. On the day The Expositor spoke with Autumn, she had a video call with the United Nations because she had been invited to deliver a keynote and sit on a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, 2020. Then, she had another virtual meeting with the Women of the World conference in Australia. 

“She has lots of invites to Cape Town, South Africa, China, and trying to do her role as Chief Water Commissioner (of the Anishinabek Nation) and balance it all,” said Ms. Peltier. “She just wants to live a semi-normal life and not become known on a scale like Greta (Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist).”

To add one extra complication, Autumn told The Expositor that she recently fractured her hip and spine, likely an injury from her passions of running and playing field hockey.

Despite all of the challenges, they did say that they find grounding through their home on Manitoulin Island and said they were thankful for all of the support from fellow Islanders. Autumn said she appreciated being able to step out into nature and go for a run to find a quiet moment away from the pressures of her prominence.

All of this is not to say Autumn is in any way unappreciative of the platform she’s been given. She has learned first-hand that fame can be a proverbial double-edged sword; both a positive and a negative force in one’s life. However, she said she hoped the people reaching out for interviews and speaking requests could remember the reason she decided to assume this public role.

“Help me get my message out. Help me get our (people’s) voices heard,” said Autumn.