Embracing Roots and Growing a Beautiful Relationship

Jul 13, 2023 | by Brent Rinehart

“We are from the North, and these come from the quahog (clam) shell,” Gabriella says pointing to her husband’s handmade purple and white necklace. “If you see the quahog shell, it’s connected (at the bottom) and it represents our relationship, where he’s on one side and I’m on the other, and we come together.”

She makes the motions with her hands as her husband, Chief Cochise Medicine Shield joins her, folding his own hands.

“This has been a symbol of our relationship and a symbol of the calling – that we are trying to bring unity,” she adds.

Chief Cochise was raised by his grandparents, part of the Nanticoke tribe, in the traditional native American culture. He’s also part Apache, Lacota and Cherokee. His grandfather was a medicine man and his grandmother was a chief spiritual leader.

Gabriella discovered her heritage much later in life.

“I was primarily raised in a Christian environment, my mom had started going to church when I was 1. The first 24 years of my life were in the church. I knew part of my heritage was African-American, but I knew that my mom also told me I was Native-American. I did not find too much about my Native-American heritage until about 11 years ago.”

Growing up, she attended Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, camps and youth groups.

“Eventually I ended up veering off the path for a while on my own, but I felt like God was asking me to find my own spiritual path,” she said. “That eventually led me into a relationship with my husband. Which got me out of some really bad situations. It felt like it was God sending me my guardian angel.”

He helped her learn more about her Native-American roots. She embraced a new name – Running Rabbit – and a new calling as spiritual clan mother, just like Chief Cochise’s grandmother. As Native Americans and followers of Christ, their mission now is bringing unity among denominations, who all worship the same God but in different styles and with different traditions.

But, the path to arrive here – together in their own apartment – wasn’t so clear. There were many obstacles in their way.

“God Put Us Together”

In Rhode Island, Chief Cochise worked at the Rhode Island Indian Council as a young man. He was a social worker, in charge of the food pantry and distributing food to those in need.

Running Rabbit’s mother used to come in for help. Always having a soft spot for helping families and children, he used to slide a pack of candy in for Gabriella.

“As time went on, we ran into each other through college…there’s no coincidence I think,” he said. “We didn’t see each other for years and then one day we saw each other in a restaurant and I interacted with her, and we both looked at each other saying ‘you’re the one.’ God put us together.”

Tragedy and Major Decisions

While some things in life seemed to be falling into place, tragedy was around the corner. Gabriella’s mom got sick and eventually passed away from COVID-19.

Later the same month, they were evicted from their apartment. A month after that, the pandemic officially set in and the world shut down. They were homeless, and unable to find anywhere to go for a year and a half.

It was a divine message in a church service that prompted the family to move away from Rhode Island.

“I had never left my home state before. Never lived anywhere else before. My heart was in North Carolina for like 10 years since discovering my heritage was down here. That’s always been on my heart.”

In 2022, the family packed up and headed south.

“We came down here with little money. We were trusting God that he would take care of us when we got down here. We just packed and left. We bounced from an Air B&B to a hotel,” she said, describing the circumstances that brought her to the Salvation Army Center of Hope. “We took the last $40 in our pocket, it was enough to get us a taxicab to the shelter, and him to the other shelter.”

With no place for an in-tact family at the time, Gabriella was accepted into the Center of Hope, while Chief Cochise went to the men’s shelter operated by Roof Above.

Being apart is not a recipe for a successful relationship.

“We were having some really bad relationship issues because of us obviously being so separate from each other. It was starting to tax on [us],” Gabriella said. “All these things were happening and it was started to tax on me too much. So, I said ‘I have to start looking for a place [for us] to live.’”

Meanwhile, she began taking advantage of the on-site services offered by The Salvation Army. The health clinic helped her manage her medications and her diet – she found out she was pre-diabetic. She also met with her case manager and the housing navigator, and she took advantage of the support groups.

None of the programs were more impactful than the on-site Bible studies, offered by church volunteers and the on-site chaplain, Captain Shimei Hewitt.

“I will say one thing about The Salvation Army,” Chief Cochise says, thinking about his wife’s experience. “You’re not only a number. When they interact with you and you show respect, they give you an immense respect back and show you what they are all about.”

One day, a divine missed appointment, allowed Gabriella to be available to go to Albemarle with Center of Hope staff to view apartments. God was paving the way for her to find a place.

She became familiar with Stanly County, and she and her husband attended a Native American powwow there. At the event, they met a man who just so happened to have a vacant apartment unit. They made an appointment to see it.

“As soon as I walked in, we just fell in love with it,” she said. “For me it was the fireplace, for him it was the kitchen.”

“I love cooking,” Chief Cochise joyfully interjected.

Now, they are back together and it means the world to them.

“We’ve been homeless since 2020,” she said. “Now we are able to build on our relationship, but we also had to be able to process all the things that happened within the last three years. But, at least we have a stable place to be able to do that.”

“Even though I wasn’t sleeping there at night, if it wasn’t for The Salvation Army and some special people that helped me, encouraging me through guidance through times of trouble with tears in my eyes, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today,” Chief Cochise adds.

“If it wasn’t’ for The Salvation Army, my wife and I wouldn’t be sitting here with each other to this day. That’s what it means to us, because there were a lot of struggles,” he said. “My hope is to grow stronger with my wife. The more we learn about each other, the closer we get.”

Recent Stories

Get Involved

A gift to The Salvation Army helps someone in your community.

Give Now



Do Good in your community

Find Worship

Join us throughout the week for worship, fellowship, Bible study, meals, community service and fun.