Rising Above to bring healing to the First Nations

Julie Cole | Apr 14, 2014
Mervin Cheechoo (right) stands with Kallie Wood (centre) and Ray Aldred at this year's Aboriginal Awareness Week at Briercrest College and Seminary. Mervin Cheechoo (right) stands with Kallie Wood (centre) and Ray Aldred at this year's Aboriginal Awareness Week at Briercrest College and Seminary.Mervin Cheechoo (right) stands with Kallie Wood (centre) and Ray Aldred at this year's Aboriginal Awareness Week at Briercrest College and Seminary.

Mervin Cheechoo has a heart to bring God’s healing to the wounds of abuse suffered by many people of the First Nations.

The Briercrest MA Counselling student is the president of the board of Rising Above, an organization founded and governed by First Nations people, which seeks to educate, equip and empower aboriginals to address their pain and rise above it. 

The organization began out of desperation.

“Our original founder, Vincent Yellow Old Woman, called a number of us First Nations Christian leaders together in 1992, asking us what we were going through,” Cheechoo recounted. “He expressed people were coming to him with deep issues of abuse that he felt inadequate to deal with. We were in the same position. We’d seen these things in our churches but we felt we weren’t equipped to handle this stuff.”

“There was an overwhelming consensus that we had to look at these issues from a biblical perspective because there was no voice from a Christian aboriginal perspective.”

The group came up with the name Rising Above during that first meeting.

“The thought was we could rise above everything as First Nations people with God’s help – that was central,” Cheechoo exclaimed.

Convincing some of the First Nations people on the need to address abuse issues was an uphill battle at first.

“We felt resistance even from our own organization and churches when we brought these issues up – because people don’t want to talk about this stuff,” Cheechoo said.

“Our motto at Rising Above is important,” he explained. “It’s ‘First Peoples Helping First Peoples.’”

The board president explained that with the painful history of residential schools, First Nations people tend to more easily trust a Christian organization if it is native founded and native governed.

“In the aboriginal world sometimes they don’t accept Christianity,” he said. “They’ve been hurt. They associate residential schools with government – with Christianity because residential schools were church run.”

This hurdle is often successfully crossed when people find that several board members of Rising Above are residential school survivors.

“They’re able to really speak into the situation – able to identify with people,” Cheechoo exclaimed. “A lot of times people go, ‘Wow, these guys have been there. They’re talking about their hurt, their pain yet they embrace Christianity.’ It says something.”

“I’ve often said that just because the messenger wasn’t what he should have been doesn’t mean the message is not true,” he continued. “But that doesn’t nullify the message of Jesus – Jesus’ relevancy to First Nations people – that Jesus is for all cultures.”

Cheechoo believes the key to their message being received is presenting Christ as the ultimate healer.

“Jesus didn’t just die for the bad things that you’ve done, but He also died for your grief and sorrows,” he explained. “It resonates with people because up to this point in their lives all they’ve known is coldness and abuse. So a lot of times that’s their view of God. They know they’ve done bad, but sometimes they don’t think that God cares that they’re hurting – that God didn’t care when they were getting hurt. When they see Jesus as the ultimate healer – that Jesus actually bled and hung there not only for their bad things but for their grief and sorrow – that resonates with people.”

The board president has a big vision for the future of Rising Above.

“I’d like to see Rising Above with effective programs throughout Canada that would be accessible to every First Nations person,” he said. “I always say that we need to be riding on the wave of what God’s doing. Rising Above has been doing that for the last 22 years. God keeps moving and moving and using it and people have been blessed.”

This big vision is fulfilled one step at a time.

“When you help one person, or if you help a couple, then they will pass that on,” he said. “It will affect their children; it will affect their grandchildren, their relatives and eventually their community. When you help one person then succeeding generations are helped and blessed.”