Growing up, I remember having a very free, happy life, being loved and taken care of by my family. I had a real sense of security and peace travelling with my parents on hunting trips and helping them with their trap line. That all changed when I was seven-years-old. My father put me on an airplane and sent me to a residential school far away from home. In that one day, all those years of being loved, those years of peace and security were ripped apart. I was devastated. I felt that no one loved me anymore, no one cared about me. I thought my parents had given me away.
As a result, I grew up with a lot of anger and hatred inside. At the same time, I was constantly searching for love. I wanted to know that someone cared about me. The hurt that I built up within myself during my teenage years carried into my adult life as well. I developed an attitude that I was never going to let anyone hurt me again. And I vowed that I would make a success of me life, that I would never be defeated. I took this attitude with me when I became the leader of my people.
I grew up watching my father as chief of our community. People had great respect for him as a man of wisdom, leadership and integrity. As a young boy I acted as a translator for his dealings with provincial and federal politics. Later, he began to groom me to take his place as leader of our community and, eventually, the Cree tribe in northern Quebec.
I became chief of our Cree community when I was 21. Around this time many preachers and evangelists wanted to come onto the reserve and share the gospel message. I did everything I could to stop the gospel, because I remembered being a child at school learning that God was this menacing, huge, punishing being. There was no personal relationship with that type of God.
Four years later I became the first Grand Chief of the Cree Grand Council. I used this position to help my people develop. We modernized the villages, built housing and schools and encouraged health and economic development. I was very successful in this position. But like all successes, it had it's drawbacks, especially in my personal life.
I became very prideful. Alcohol and drugs took their toll. I lost contact with my family, with my young wife and children. I knew I had to do something. Even with all the success there was a void in my life. There wasn't a sense of accomplishment, there was an emptiness, there was no peace.
Then one day my wife told me she accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour, but I said 'Never. Not me.' I thought it was a white man's religion and I wasn't going to accept it.
But in the latter part of my term as Grand Chief, things got so bad that one day I had to cry out to God and ask Him to come into my life and forgive me for my sins.
Things changed drastically after that. I no longer had the desire for alcohol, my wife and I were reconciled, our dying son was healed and our community was changed as the gospel came alive in the hearts of my people. I learned that God is a loving Father. That He's a forgiving God, He's a healing God and He's a friend that you can have a relationship with.
Now I know that through Christ people can be changed. With Him, all things are possible. If you feel like you're not going anywhere, like you're stuck in a rut, and you're tired of religion, ceremonies and rituals, open your heart and let a living God touch you and begin to develop a relationship with Him. You will never be the same again.
You can have Jesus in your life and still be a First Nations person. You can still go out and hunt and fish and still give thanks and glory to the loving God, to the living God you serve, Jesus.