A year before Ray Krise was born, a Skokomish spiritual leader cautioned his grandparents that they needed to change their ways because a future grandchild’s life was at stake. Turned out that life was Ray’s.
Although Steve and Naomi Johns long ago had strayed far from their tribal roots, they were swayed by the wise man’s prophesy. Under his guidance, they gave up alcohol and began studying their ancestors’ ancient ways so they could pass on their identity and culture. A year later, they felt blessed to be able to take in their newborn grandson, Ray, because his parents couldn’t care for him. Eventually, young Ray’s grandfather became a great spiritual and tribal leader and, from 1965 until his death in 1980, was an elder in the Native American Shaker Church. His grandmother became known as one of the best fishermen among the Skokomish—a great honor in tribal tradition.
“If not for being raised by my grandparents, I would not have a cultural identity,” Krise explains. “I wouldn’t know my family lineage and my son would not bear the name Tcha-LQad—a name that is 17 generations old.
“My grandparents raised me in old, traditional ways—no running the streets or going to dances like other kids my age. Instead, I was involved in the spiritual side of life. My passion was going to drum circles and listening to old people talk and perform ceremonies. That helped me develop a real sense of pride and belonging.”
When asked about his grandparents, Krise had no difficulty finding words to describe them. “My grandfather was probably one of the kindest men I’ve ever known,” Krise recalls of the man who taught him to carve totem poles. “He was also a leader. I was proud to accompany him when he stood beside Marlon Brando during the fishing wars in the 1970s. That’s when the Skokomish and other coastal tribes were fighting for the right to fish in waterways off the reservation.”
Although Krise lost his grandfather in 1980, his grandmother was in his life until 2005. “She was the most beautiful woman in the world, very caring and always giving of her own. My cousin and I took care of her until her last days. It was a privilege.”
Today, Krise is a highly respected community spiritual leader, among other roles, having trained to be a speaker and hereditary chief since he was 11 years old.
Krise is also a father and grandfather. “It’s pretty awesome having my children and grandchildren in my life. We live on the same property and sing the same songs my grandparents sang to me as a baby. I’m thankful every day for how I was brought up in life.”
To read more inspiring stories of people raised in grandfamilies, download Generations United publication Grand Successes: Stories of Lives Well-Raised today!