I was in line for the bus when I was given a story about a boy who could remember anything. It was the closing event for a festival and they had rented a shuttle bus to take everyone to the social afterwards. I hadn’t been in line long before the host of the festival approached me and introduced himself.
We started discussing traditional knowledge transference and knowledge keepers when he told me about an Oneida boy he had met from Six Nations in Ontario. This boy was not only fluent in his language but had also been chosen by the community's elders to carry on their songs and ceremonies.
River Christie-White has just turned fifteen and comes from a longhouse family. His first language is Oneida and he is one of the family's youngest fluent speakers. His second language is English, followed by Ojibwe and Innu. Every summer his family goes on the powwow trail to help support him in his campaign for spreading Autism awareness through hoop dancing. His regalia is covered in puzzle pieces, which is the symbol used to illustrate the complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); because just as all puzzle pieces are different in some way, so is each person on the spectrum. They are all affected differently, with some having very unique abilities like being able to remember anything after hearing it or seeing it only a few times. River happens to have this gift.
My mother has worked in our community for over twenty years with adults who are on the spectrum. She told me how much she likes the concept of the puzzle piece because just as any puzzle missing a piece is incomplete, so are our communities without these individuals. She told me that in fact, they traditionally had important roles as knowledge keepers.
I met River and his parents at a coffee shop and he gave me a Hoyan before explaining the story behind the Oneida tradition of giving out these little doughnuts on New Year's Day. He shared his story with me along with some of the challenges that come with being on the spectrum and the lack of awareness in many communities. This is why he’s been campaigning on the powwow trail these past three years while living out of a tent.
As we were leaving, his mother told me that his Oneida name is Lal^taloks which means “He gathers leaves” in English. The word for leaves can also refer to people in their language, and she believes that is what River is here to do.
River started a GoFundMe campaign to fundraise for the purchase of an RV for him and his family to stay in while he is on the powwow trail raising awareness for Autism.
For each donation received he will put your name on his RV in vinyl. You can donate here.
Amanda Roy is Anishinaabe from the community of Buzwah, which is part of the Wikwemikong Unceded reserve on Manitoulin Island. She attended the University of Toronto and McGill University and previously worked as an analyst in both the private and public IT sectors before switching to media. She has worked on various film and digital media projects in various roles with Mushkeg Media and Rezolution Pictures in Montreal. She is currently working with Rezolution Pictures' sister company Schoolu, which combines the immersion of virtual reality (VR) with the engagement of game-play to inspire young minds to learn in the James Bay Region of Quebec. She is also working on her own film projects.