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Urban Elder ONF/NFB


Catalogue Number:  NFB522785
Producer:  National Film Board Of Canada
Producers:  Robert S. Adams, Peter Starr, Cornelia Principa, Louise Lore
Directors:  Robert S. Adams
Producing Agencies:  Four Directions Studio Limited (Toronto), National Film Board of Canada (Montreal)
Subject:  Architecture, Documentary, First Nations Studies, Indigenous Peoples, Religious Studies, Social Issues
Language:  English
Country Of Origin:  Canada
Copyright Year:  1997
Running Time:  28:54


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In the last forty years, Canada has seen a major population shift of Indigenous peoples to 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.



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