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Urban Elder

Urban Elder

| 28 min

In the last forty years, Canada has seen a major population shift of Indigenous peoples to the urban centres like Toronto which has become home to the largest urban Indigenous population in the country (an estimated 65,000).

Today's urban Indigenous peoples (both those with a direct connection to land-based reservation life, and those who have always lived in cities) are developing an urban Indigenous culture. They are discovering ways to integrate important expressions of traditional culture into city life, including the tradition of the Elder: a person of great wisdom who dispenses advice, settles disputes, and acts as a model and arbitrator of acceptable behaviour.

Meet Vern Harper, Urban Elder, who walks the "Red Road" in a fast-paced, urban landscape. The camera follows Vern as he leads a sweat lodge purification ceremony, watches his 11-year-old daughter Cody at a classical ballet rehearsal, conducts a private healing ceremony, participates in a political march of 150,000 people, and counsels Indigenous prisoners at Warkworth Federal Prison.

In his own voice, Vern Harper tells the Urban Elder story of how he reaches into the past for his people's traditions, blending those old ways into the present so that the future can be a time of personal growth and spiritual strength.

  • director
    Robert S. Adams
  • producer
    Robert S. Adams
    Peter Starr
  • executive producer
    Louise Lore
  • associate producer
    Cornelia Principa
  • photography
    John Holosko
  • sound
    Patrick Rowan
    Adrian Tucker
    David Findlay
  • editing
    Denis Takacs
  • sound mix
    John Darrock
  • music
    Don Ross
  • participation
    Vern Harper
    Rodney Bobiwash
    Sylvia Maracle
    Laura Spencer
    Dan Smoke


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Ages 14 to 18

Indigenous Studies - History/Politics
Indigenous Studies - Identity/Society
Indigenous Studies - Issues and Contemporary Challenges
Social Studies - Contemporary Issues

This documentary can inspire research, discussion, projects and entry points for further learning about Elders in present-day contexts. What does it mean to live in two cultures? What is the Red Road and how can it be maintained in present-day society? What is an urban “Indian”? Why is the term “Indian” no longer widely used today? How does an elderly person become an Elder? How might a foster home contribute to identity loss and a sense of alienation? How has the justice system contributed to social disparity for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples throughout Canadian history? How were reserves formed and what choice did First Nations have in being confined to reserves? What is the pass system and how was this a tool of control over land and people? Are First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples accepted in urban areas and what obstacles continue to create social inequity for those living in urban areas?

Urban Elder
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