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Abandoned but not forsaken

As a young child, I was kidnapped by my mother and then later abandoned. I faced a lot of trauma growing up. One day I came to know Creator and to call Him Jesus. I realized that though my mother abandoned me, God never did and He is all I need.


Last updated 9/10/2015 at 4:28pm

Jan Uttley for Indian Life

Rita Bear Gray is Cree from Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan. She now works in management for the Muckleshoot Reservation as well as with the youth. She also travels around the globe sharing a message of hope. "If you are a First Nations person, Jesus gives you back your songs, your language, your dances-everything about you that makes you who you are as a Native person.

Born in Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan, almost on the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it's so far north that if you go much further north, you'll hit the Northwest Territories. It's called "The Land of a Thousand Lakes" and it's somewhere in that area that my mom abandoned me when I was only three or four.

My father was at work and she came back after abandoning our family and kidnapped me then left me somewhere along the way with a family who were fishermen.

It took my father somewhere between two to four years to find me as he didn't know that I was abandoned somewhere else. When he was looking for me, he sent people by dogsled in the winter and horseback in the summer to try to find me.

I still remember the day he found me. I'm sure there was a lot of trauma in my life during those years but God in His mercy healed me because He's called Counselor. He healed me of a lot of things.

My father was abusive, alcoholic, and lived in poverty. There were times we had no food to eat.

One time before my mother actually left my father, the government was coming and taking children from their homes to go to residential schools. When they came, my father happened to be home from work-they weren't expecting him to be home-and he shot at them and made them do a "Pentecostal dance" scaring them off. He then took us to the bush-the forest-where we lived for a couple of years. We almost starved to death there.

My dad was a hunter and trapper and we lived by what he killed and the furs that he sold to the Hudson's Bay Company. That's how he got money to buy food supplies. That's how we lived.

When we moved up north, my mother was pregnant with me and she talked about how the winters were so harsh and how often there was no meat. There was no food because the trap lines were bad.

That winter was when we almost starved to death-my mom and my siblings. My mom was eight months pregnant with me at the time and there were seven of us-and my dad was out hunting and trapping, trying to find food and he was gone for about a week. My mother thought her children were going to starve and she had to do something so she packed up the bag-a backpack-with some hot tea, and she took off on snowshoes eight months into her pregnancy. She told me years later about how she crossed a frozen lake and heard the wolves howling so she started running as fast as she could and climbed a tree as high as she could go. The wolves came running across the lake and stayed there at the foot of the tree howling all night. My mom tied herself to the tree so she wouldn't fall off if she fell asleep.

Early the next morning as the first rays of light were shining, she saw these two trappers coming to check their traps across the lake. She started yelling and finally they heard her and came across. They took her to their campsite.

I hadn't moved for a couple of hours and she thought maybe I'd developed hypothermia and died in her womb, so they took towels and warmed them over the stove and put them on her abdomen. After about half an hour to forty minutes, she said, I started moving so when I heard that, I thought I was almost wolf bait there!

From there, I moved slowly west. Back in those days, the school in our village only went up to Grade Eight. There were no roads in and out-you could only fly in. So they'd fly people out to Prince Albert, SK, mostly and so that's where I went to high school. It was a public high school-Prince Albert Collegiate-and it was mostly white students so I dealt with a lot of racism. There was bullying and name calling and when we'd walk by they'd put their hands over their mouths and go "Ohohohoh" like an Indian chant.

All of us stayed in white homes and I think I lasted a year because of the bullying and the things I dealt with. So I quit Grade Nine and moved to Victoria, British Columbia, because that's where my oldest sister lived and still lives to this day. When I left high school and moved to B.C., I got a job.

Actually I was about 14 the first time I saw my mom since she abandoned me. I didn't know her because she wasn't in my life all those years.

Then when I moved to Victoria, she was living with my sister so I purposely began to form a relationship with her and got to know her.

I lived with my sisters until I was 16 when I got an apartment and lived on my own. Of course, I started working at 12, when I worked in the local grocery store in my home village in northern Saskatchewan. So I was supporting myself at twelve years of age.

Growing up in a village where the Roman Catholic Church was the church in the community, I grew up with catholic teaching-catechism-we had a priest who taught catechism in our school. I wouldn't say I was a "good practicing Catholic," it's just that there was nowhere else to go, there was nothing else-no other church in the community.

I believe I was 26 years old when I received the Lord as my Savior in Saskatoon, SK. While living in Victoria, I went to visit one of my sisters who lives in Saskatoon and she was the first one to come to know the Lord. She took me to a little Baptist church and she dragged me to the front and I got saved. I was just visiting her so after my visit I went back to Victoria.

A few years later I met my husband in Vancouver and then we moved and lived there for ten to twelve years and then he got a job in the United States and we all moved there-my husband, our two daughters, and me. It took the move to the States for my husband to get saved.

After my husband and I moved to Seattle, I'd bring my mom over to the U.S. so that she could get to know my children. But she died a few short years later from alcohol.

It has been ten years since my husband passed on suddenly.

My girls were little when we moved to the U.S. and now they are in their 30s, so we will probably stay. I think I will eventually move back home to Canada.

Currently I'm working on the Muckleshoot Reservation where I have worked for 18 to 20 years, mostly in management but I'm also working with the youth on the reservation.

I've also been involved in ministry for quite a number of years and for me, what moved me and thrust me out into ministry was prayer. Prayer and fasting to see God move powerfully.

I started prayer groups in my home when my girls were young so I've been having a weekly prayer group in my home for the last 30 years. This has expanded in the U.S. and Canada.

I went back to school when I was living in Victoria and went on to Bible college in Seattle to study counseling. I believe that prayer was really a big part of it and being involved with other ministries.

I started moving in the circles of reconciliation about 25 years ago when reconciliation just started to come forth in Christian ministry. I've ministered with people like Jean Stephansen, John Dawson, Peter Wagner, Chuck Pierce, friends along the way you meet, and you just keep those relationships. We don't see each other often but when we do it's awesome because we remember what they've imparted into our lives and people I've met and places I've passed through along the way. You glean from being in the Word.

There was a group of us Native Americans who are all probably in our 60s, who you would say were "getting the call" and having the same dreams and visions, the same Scriptures, a whole group of us getting this at the same time including Suuqiina, Richard Twiss, Fern Noble, Linda Prince, Doug Yates, Mary Glazier, and Jonathan Maracle's father, Andrew Maracle. A lot of us heard the call around the same time and we had a leadership meeting in Florida. There were about 20 of us and we just kind of strategized and prayed for one another. We began to realize we were all receiving the same Scriptures, the same call, at the same time. And that's how we began to have relationship and fellowship with one another and praying together.

This began to mushroom and God began, it seemed, to "handpick" people who were being called into the ministry.

I was part of the Wiconi International staff for a number of years doing the women's ministry. Since those days, I've been to Israel twice-once with Linda Prince when she took the 120 drums during the Feast of Tabernacles.

As a First Nations person, I felt a deep connection to the Israeli and Palestinian people. I believe that God opened my heart and my eyes and gave me a greater understanding in my first visit to Israel. We spoke in the Knesset and shared some of our cultural traditions with the Speaker and he just gave us some powerful words about keeping and hanging on to our culture and using that as a tool for ministry.

I just returned from Scotland where I ministered with Cheryl Bear Barnetson and Jonathan Maracle and the Broken Walls band.

I grew up Catholic, got saved in a Baptist church, and baptized in a Pentecostal church. For me, everything I've gone through growing up in the rez, growing up in a home where there was alcohol abuse, poverty, living in the city and living in both worlds, I would say that Jesus Christ is the only answer. He's the only way, the truth, and the life.

As a Native American woman, my identity is in Christ first. One of my favorite Scriptures is "in Him I live and move and have my being" (Acts 17:28). That's the only way to live.

Rita enjoys being with friends and enjoys meeting new friends. Here she is at Lake Junaluska, NC, and enjoying the company of friends. She just returned from Scotland where she was joined in ministry with Cheryl Bear Barnetson, and the Broken Walls band.

As Native Americans, our identity is in Christ first and when you know who you are in Him first, then He gives it back to you because He is a God of restoration. He is to you everything you need Him to be. If you need a mother or a father, or a best friend, Jesus is whatever you need Him to be.

If you are a First Nations person, He gives you back your songs, your language, your dances-everything about you that makes you who you are as a Native person.

I've learned that every culture has things that are precious and vile. You have to take the precious from the vile. Take the good and use it for His glory and leave the bad. Every culture is a sin-stained culture. None of us are without sin.

We have to learn and the Holy Spirit is the greatest teacher. He teaches you even how to do beadwork which I've learned how to do. He teaches us how dance. He brought that all back to me-even the things I didn't know about my own culture. I didn't know about the Cree people but He taught me. He's the God of restoration.


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