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Vern Harper (born June 17, 1932 in Toronto, Ontario) is a Canadian First Nations Cree Elder, medicine man, and Aboriginal rights activist. The “Urban Elder” is a fifth generation grandson of Mistawasis, a hereditary Cree chief, and a sixth generation grandson of Big Bear
Following a difficult and traumatic childhood and having later recovered from problems with drugs and alcohol, Harper became politically active as Vice-President of the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association in 1972. In 1974, with his then-wife, Pauline Shirt Harper (born July 13, 1943, Saddlelake, Alberta) he organized the Native People’s Caravan, a cross Canada trek to raise awareness of broken treaties and grievances against the Canadian government. In 1976, he and his wife founded the Wandering Spirit Survival School of Toronto.
He is the author of Following The Red Road: The Native People’s Caravan, 1974 (1979).
Later life and career
Mr. Harper is one of a few First Nations Elders with Chaplain Status, as recognized by the Correctional Service of Canada. As such, he provides spiritual services, sweat lodge ceremonies and traditional counseling to Aboriginal inmates. He also counseled Aboriginal youth offenders.
In 1997, Mr. Harper was the subject of the documentary Urban Elder which chronicled his life and role of community leader and Traditional Elder in an urban setting.
Mr. Harper served as Resident Elder at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto further promoting the role of First Nations spirituality in the treatment of mental health and addiction. He resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.