Prominent Indigenous activist Vernon Harper dead at 81

May 16, 2018 | News

Damian Ali

Tributes continued on Wednesday for Vernon Harper, one of Canada’s most distinguished Indigenous activists and Cree Elders.

Harper, who died last weekend, served as vice-president of the Ontario Metis and Non-Status Indian Association, is being remembered for his contributions to Indigenous rights and providing a voice to those who could not speak for themselves.

Vernon Harper worked tirelessly to give a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. (Anishinabek Nation Head Office / Anishinabek News)

“He will be fondly be remembered for his passion for helping others and for being a champion for Indigenous rights,” said Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee in a release.

“He was an advocate for those who could not speak for themselves and he influenced the lives of many. These contributions will not be forgotten.”

Most notably, Harper was known for co-founding the Native People’s Caravan in 1974, a cross-Canada trek. Beginning in Vancouver and ending in Ottawa, its goal was to raise awareness about broken promises and injustices by the federal government.

Harper is also known for co-founding the First Nations School of Toronto, and, in the years following the national trek, authoring a book, entitled The Red Road: The Native People’s Caravan, 1974.

Harper is nationally recognized as one of the few First Nation Elders to hold chaplain status. Formally acknowledged by the Correctional Service of Canada, this enabled him to provide spiritual services and traditional counselling to Indigenous prison inmates.

“He was able to bring culture into the prisons and shelters because he believed that identity was the way to heal the men and women who had lost their way,” said the Anishinabek Nation Head Office in the release.

Condolences flew in from Canadians all over the country, including Niigaan Sinclair, who teaches Native Studies at the University of Manitoba.

Funeral services are expected to be held this Friday in Toronto.