________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 21 . . . . June 18, 1999

cover Urban Elder.

Robert S. Adams (Director). Robert S. Adams & Peter Starr (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board & Four Directions Studio, 1997.
27 min., 55 sec., VHS, $39.95.
Order Number: C9197 040.

Subject Headings:
Cree Indians-Ontario-Toronto-Biography.
Cree Indians-Urban residence-Ontario-Toronto.
Cree Indians-Ontario-Toronto-Social life and customs.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.

***1/2 /4

Within Native culture, the Elder occupies a revered position: he or she is a person gifted with great wisdom, an individual who advises, resolves disputes, and acts as a model of acceptable behaviour within the Native community. Although Elders are very much an element of reservation life, they are a slowly developing a role within the culture of urban Natives. Urban Elder offers a glimpse of the life of Vern Harper, who walks the "Red Road" in Toronto, which now has the largest urban native population in Canada.

      Vern's life is an interesting blend of the traditional and the modern. He travels the "Red Road": the film shows him ministering at and leading ceremonies, counselling Native prisoners, and reflecting on his strong sense of personal responsibility which results from being recognized as an Elder by the community and of the cultural expectations that come with the role. He is a teacher, a spiritual leader, a political activist, a man who, although he lives in the city, remains deeply connected to the spiritual beliefs and traditions of Native culture and seeks ways to foster those connections in every aspect of his life. At the same time, he is aware of the impact of modern twentieth-century culture and looks for ways to integrate it with traditional Native ways.

      Urban Elder is a portrait of an individual who has found meaning in a balanced life. Vern Harper affirms the positive value of maintaining one's culture and seeks to convey this to others, whatever their heritage.

      Secondary school classes in Canadian History and Aboriginal Studies will find that the video offers valuable perspectives on Native culture in an urban setting.


Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364