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Chief sends message of hope

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, March 12, 2007

HAY RIVER - On Monday evenings when most people are relaxing after supper, Alec Sunrise heads off to jail.

The chief of K'atlodeeche First Nation helps inmates at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre (SMCC) get their lives back on track with guidance from the Bible.

NNSL Photo/graphic

K'atlodeeche First Nation Chief Alec Sunrise leads a Bible study class for inmates at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

For many years, Sunrise has led Bible study classes at the minimum security facility for adult males.

On March 5, he used the Book of Nehemiah to inspire five inmates gathered in a small classroom at the jail.

Sunrise told the inmates that each one of them is on Earth for a purpose and they can change with God's help.

Likening the change to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem as described in Nehemiah, Sunrise said, "This is what I tell people. Get with it. Rebuild your life."

Sunrise told the inmates they will face temptations when they get out of jail, but added, "You've got the freedom and power to choose."

Sunrise speaks from experience.

Twenty-eight years ago, he quit drinking and started on a healthy and responsible lifestyle.

Before that, he ended up in trouble with the law and even served time in the trailers that preceded construction of SMCC.

"I've gone through what they're going through," the 53-year-old said, adding God helped change his life.

Sunrise has offered Bible study classes at SMCC since 1997.

"I know I have a message and that's a message of hope," he said.

One of the inmates, Brian Hope of Fort Liard, said learning about the Bible helped him get rid of his anger at the world.

"It guarantees me there's a better life out there through the Lord," said the 37-year-old.

The March 5 Bible study class was Hope's last one at SMCC as he was being released a few days later.

At the end of the class, Sunrise led the inmates in a prayer for Hope as he returns home.

Sunrise said his class usually attracts up to five inmates.

But the number doesn't matter, he said. "I'm dedicated to doing this."

Once, no inmates were at the class, but Sunrise waited and one eventually showed up over an hour later.

The chief recalled a story told by his father of being lost on Great Slave Lake in an August storm. His father found his way to shore by following the dim light of a coal oil lamp in a window.

Sunrise likened that story to the several people helping SMCC inmates with Bible studies. "We might be the only light in this dark world."