Wisdom of Elders

In most traditional cultures, “an elder is one acknowledged for not only being older but has also reached a state of maturity and wisdom…the old and the elder are the most revered members of the community and are its greatest preservers and nurturers.” -Malidoma Somé

In July 2007, Nelson Mandela brought together a group of independent leaders and introduced them by saying “… with their experience, and their profound commitment to building a better world- let us call them global Elders. They support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair." -www.theelders.org

“It takes a person of great heart to see...the wisdom elders have to offer, and so serve them out of gratitude for the life they have passed on to us." - Kent Nerburn

Wisdom of Elders

What We Do
We’ve had the honour to inspire people of all ages in Canada by hosting various respected indigenous elders. These have included: Elder Vern Harper (Cree, Canada, now deceased); Mandaza Kandemwa (Shona from Central Africa); and Dr. Malidoma Somé (Dagara, Burkina Faso and USA).

Besides hosting events, we’re creating A Legacy of Wisdom where we are documenting and sharing elders’ wisdom.

Our Accomplishments

  • Hosted gatherings with various elders including Dr. Malidoma Somé (Dagara), Elder Vern Harper (Cree, deceased), and Svikiro Mandaza Kandemwa (Shona)
  • Hosted the Canadian tour in 2014 and 2018 for Svikiro Mandaza Kandemwa, an elder from Central Africa in 6 cities of Ontario and 2 cities in British Columbia
  • Implemented initial stage of Legacy of Elders project creating an eldership platform enabling Elders’ stories and messages to be shared widely to all who seek their guidance and wisdom. (see below for more information)

How You Can Help

This project supports hosting and documentation of elders stories and messages. Living Ways is keen to share respected elders’ messages and resources on its website enabling access to all. Your donations support our efforts to enable elders to share their wisdom. Donate Now

At Living Ways, we require volunteers for a range of activities, from working on our key projects, to helping with administrative work or our promotional and digital efforts. We encourage diversity among our volunteers, and recruit prospective volunteers from a broad range of abilities and backgrounds. Volunteer Here

Photo of Elder Vern by Matthew Wiley

Legacy of Elders

Elders possess a valuable contribution and represent a vast store of wisdom that can guide us in transforming our lives, our communities and the planet.

Living Ways aims to increase awareness of the powerful role of elders, as well as disseminating their messages and supporting the concept of eldership for children, youth and adults.

Living Ways acknowledges and champions the profound gifts of elders for the betterment of our society. We are developing a variety of projects to share their wisdom and guidance for us all.

The first elder we are featuring on this platform is Elder Vern Harper, Chapon Asin (Great Grandfather Stone), Cree (June 17, 1936 - May 12, 2018). It is an honour and privilege to feature this spiritual elder and share some of his messages recorded before his passing. Living Ways had the privilege of videotaping Elder Vern (Videographer, Wendy Rowland). Living Ways is grateful and delighted to have these videos available to the public.

For more information on Elder Vern please click on the following link.

About Elder Vern Harper, Chapon Asin (Great Grandfather Stone), Cree

Elder Vern (Chapon Asin) Harper was a spiritual elder, medicine man and storyteller residing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  He was fifth generation grandson of Mistawasis, "Big Child" - a hereditary chief - and the sixth generation grandson of Big Bear, who fought the last battle between the Cree and the Canadian government in 1885.

Elder Vern (Chapon Asin) was a wise and humble man; many associated him with being a “holy man”.  Recognized and respected Heyoka (sacred clown and medicine which is often given in reverse), he was also a Story Teller.

As a decorated Korean War Veteran receiving citations, Elder Vern served as a combat paratrooper and military policeman in the 82nd airborne division.

Having dedicated his life to service particularly to serving community, Elder Vern founded various projects and organizations i.e. Wakinyan Awasis: Thunderbird Place for Honouring the Spirit of the Child and  co-founded the Wandering Spirit Survival School, now known as First Nations School. The long list of accomplishments and achievements include having been the Spiritual Elder for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health from 2002 until 2013 counseling numerous individuals with addictions and leading ceremonies and sharing his deep wisdom with humbleness and honour.  He purposely chose to work in the cities as an “Urban Elder”.

In 2016 Elder Vern shared some of his story with Leslie Fell. He noted:

“I see children as our most precious gift who we protect by holding and guiding them in the centre of the circle. I have dedicated my life to protection of the children and our heritage.

I have worked my entire life in the Native community. I understand what our ancestors went through, and how some of this history has affected the Aboriginal community negatively. Some of our people deal with identity issues. Some feel rejected by the community. A major focus of my work has been to help people find who they are. In Aboriginal culture there is a saying: “If you don’t know who your ancestors are, you don’t know who you are.”

When Leslie had asked Elder Vern what makes his story and teachings unique he responded by saying “I always try to tell the truth. Traditionally many of my teachings are passed on from the elders and medicine people. I’ve been blessed with having some of the best teachers - holy men and women as my teachers.

I think the most important thing is that people trust me and people recognize me as a healer and teacher and most important is how I’m different is that I’m grassroots. Even though I’m almost living in poverty I keep serving the people and I keep taking care of the people and my family.”

It is an honour and privilege to feature Cree Elder Vern Harper and share some of his messages recorded before his passing.

Meet Elder Vern

Hear Cree Elder Vern Harper- Asin (meaning stone or rock) later names Chapon Asin (Great Grandfather Stone)  (June 17, 1936 - May 12, 2018) in his home where culture remained a priority. Here he shares a simple cleansing ritual and notes why rituals are helpful.


Role Models and Urban Elders

Hear how Elder Vern was a role model, helping the ones coming behind him and became recognized as an “Urban Elder”. Sharing the need to have more spiritual people in the city, he notes the most important thing that he does is to “listen”.

A Good Man

Elder Vern shares how we all make choices. We hurt ourselves, but we hurt our loved ones. Listening to the words offered to him “You are a good man” brought healing.

Never Again

“We will never allow to be defeathered - to take our culture away”, said Elder Vern. “When we pray we always honour our ancestors. If you don’t know who your ancestors are then you don’t know who you are.”

Alone in the Bush

Elder Vern shares the purpose of being left in the bush for two years by his uncle. The lessons he learned were applied to his life in particular, learning to listen.


416-907-8161 | info@livingways.org

2429 County Road 25 Castleton, Ontario, K0K 1M0

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