A tribute to Steve Cheramie Risingsun

Steve Cheramie Risingsun speaking at the San José 2007 Mennonite Church USA convention. (Mennonite Church USA photo)

by Iris de León-Hartshorn

A gentle funny giant who loved the church with all of his heart – that is how I will remember my friend Steve Cheramie Risingsun. Steve died in his sleep February 20, 2016. Now I know some of you who know me may say, isn’t everyone you know a giant next to you? Steve was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, but that’s a giant to me.

Steve had a passion for helping Native Americans hear the gospel through Native American culture – bringing a decolonized version of the gospel that was life-giving and affirming of Native American people and their culture.

He was met with resistance from the dominant culture and even at times from his own people, for many Native Americans who became Christian did so forsaking their identity and their culture. These were conversations I had many times with Steve and people like Lawrence Hart. A group of First Nations people from Canada and Native Americans from the U.S. formed Native American Indigenous Theological Studies, of which Steve served as a board member. People like Cheryl Bear and Richard Twiss were part of this group because they wanted new leaders to be able to present the gospel through an indigenous worldview – a view that says God was not brought to indigenous people, God was already here (Romans 1:20a) and was known as Creator and Great Spirit.

Steve was committed to a gospel that allowed Native People to embrace who they are and recognize the unique gifts they bring to the Christian family.

One of the most powerful memories I have working with Steve was when we went to Sydney, Australia for the World Gathering of Indigenous Christians. I remember arriving in Sydney and taking a train up the Blue Mountains to a retreat center. As I arrived I was met by Steve, Richard Twiss and Terry LeBlanc. Indigenous people from all over the world began arriving over the next few days. Each day a different continent presented in word, music and dance. The Maouri people presented a war dance that they transformed into a dance against evil. It was powerful. When it was time for the U.S. to share, Steve led the group in a traditional snake dance. We all lined up single file and held hands. Steve wore his traditional clothes which included leather chaps that went over his pants. As we moved throughout the room I accidently stepped on Steve’s chaps (they had fringe on them) and they fell down to the ground. The dance came to an abrupt stop. Steve started to laugh and soon the whole room was laughing. I can’t remember if we were ever able to resume the dance, because everyone was laughing so much.

But that was Steve – he enjoyed life and always seem to find a way to bring laughter.

I also remember some very real hardships that he faced in his work. When Katrina hit, Steve and his family were personally affected.

Steve, a Houma-Biloxi Chitimacha Indian, served five terms as a tribal Chieftain.

In the 1980s he started to research his tribal records with help from MCC. They were something he treasured. He poured so much time and work into them. When Katrina hit, all the records were destroyed. I could not even imagine the loss he felt, but that did not stop from opening up his 50-member church to those with no place to go. In addition, he helped MDS and MCC coordinate their efforts in the area.

But I fear the stress of that time and the racism he experienced with various groups left him exhausted and weary.

He dropped out of communication with the Mennonite world for a few years. I had contact with him off and on. In the last year, he had expressed a desire to rejoin the Native Mennonite Ministries and we were looking forward to him attending the meeting in late February 2016. When I got the email that he had passed away, my heart sank. His cancer had returned and there was not anything more that could be done.

My heart feels such sadness, because Steve never received the recognition he deserved for the work and love he committed to God’s work. I do know he now sits with the Creator, no longer suffering and no longer dealing with racism.

Steve, know that you ran the good race in faith and that you will be missed. May you now find peace, love and grace in the arms of the Creator.



Iris de León-Hartshorn is director of Transformative Peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA.

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8 thoughts on “A tribute to Steve Cheramie Risingsun

  1. Iris, your tribute to Steve is moving and welcome. My wife and I had the privilege of working with him during our time in Louisiana with MCC in service to the United Houma Nation. I believe the association with the network of believers you note here was important in supporting his vision for faith expressed in more authentic terms to the people he knew best.

  2. Thank you for this tribute to my brother. He enjoyed his many years of serving our Father and the work he did with our Native American brothers and sisters. I miss him dearly but know his work will go on.

  3. Thank you, Iris, for the well-expressed and well-deserved tribute you’ve given to Rev. Rising Sun. We learned to know Bro. Steve in the early 90s when he held evangelistic services with us at Choctaw Christian Church several times. We admire Steve for embodying the Gospel in authentic Native American culture and thought. His voice has been missed among us in more recent years, but his testimony and witness still ring in the memories of us who had the privilege of walking with him a brief span in life. We continue to pray for more leaders who will follow his vision.

  4. Thank you, Iris, for such a moving and honest tribute to Steve. I grieve his passing. I’m grateful for warm memories of being with him at Native American gatherings. He was a beloved leader.

  5. Well said, Iris. I also have fond memories of working with Steve when I was the Mission Network liaison with Native Mennonite Ministries. He truly was a gentle giant with a heart that was big enough to enfold all of us. Even those with whom he disagreed. I grieve his passing.

  6. Steve Cheramie affected my life like no other person I have ever met. His heart was truly to bring people into awareness of Creater and then to liveout our time in appreciation of all things provided to us . His ministry was non-judgemental as to which church affiliation a person chose ,but, to live out our life knowing we are in always in the presence of Father God.
    Steve Cheramie Risingsun got it right …he lived a Life Worth Living . Thank you for setting the bar high Man of God.

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