TORONTO – A Cree elder who was a co-organizer of a cross-Canada trek to raise awareness of broken treaties and grievances against the federal government has died, according to an organization that advocates for dozens of First Nations communities in Ontario.
Vernon Harper, a medicine man and Indigenous rights activist, organized the Native People’s Caravan from Vancouver to Ottawa in 1974.
Harper, 85, also authored a book about the trek entitled “The Red Road: The Native People’s Caravan, 1974.”
The Anishinabek Nation Grand Council says Harper died on Saturday, surrounded by members of his family in Toronto, where he was born on June 17, 1932.
He served as vice-president of the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association and in 1976, he co-founded the First Nations School of Toronto, which is designed to empower its students with a strong cultural identity.
Funeral services are to be held in Toronto on Friday.
“My condolences go out to Vern’s family, friends and loved ones during this difficult time,” Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said Tuesday in a release.
“He will be fondly remembered for his passion for helping others and for being a champion of Indigenous rights,” Madahbee said. “He was an advocate for those who could not speak for themselves and he influenced the lives of many.”
Harper was also one of a few First Nations elders with a chaplain status recognized by the Correctional Service of Canada and provided spiritual services, sweat lodge ceremonies and traditional counselling to Indigenous prison inmates.