Urban Elder

1997, 27:55 minutes, colour, English

TAPECODE 3089.00

Vern Harper, spiritual elder and medicine man, lives and works within one of the largest Aboriginal communities in the country - in the heart of downtown Toronto. The man they call Asin, the Cree word for rock, is profiled in URBAN ELDER, which premiered Friday, August 15, 1997 on TVOntario's series, "Anishnawbe: We The People". A growing number of First Nations people are living in Canadian cities - Toronto alone is home to 65,000 and Harper is part of a continent wide movement to integrate traditional Native values into modern city life. He knows how mean those city streets can be, having himself encountered many pitfalls that await young Natives moving into urban areas. He looks back on his early adult years - his problems with drugs and alcohol and a prison sentence - as a period of "defeathering", when he wandered off the "red road" the set of beliefs and practices which had provided stability and meaning to generations of his ancestors. Guiding his people back to that path has become his life's work. Filmmaker Robert S. Adams accompanies Harper as he calmly administers to Toronto's Native community - conducting healing ceremonies in downtown apartments, presiding over sweat lodges or providing support to prison inmates. "A lot of us rediscover ourselves within the institutions through the help of people like Vern" says an inmate at Warkworth prison. "If it wasn't for men like him we would never discover our culture, who we are, our ceremonies". As greater number of Natives find themselves living in cities, Harper serves as a beacon, a model of how time-honoured tradition can provide an invaluable touchstone for coping with urban life in the late 20th century.

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Critical Writing

Documentaries show city dangers for blacks and Indians: The Arts:...
by John Allemang. The Globe and Mail, Aug. 14, 1997.
"Urban Elder" Is a Must-See
Newsletter of the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, June 1997, v. 10, no. 9.