At A Sweat Lodge With Native Elder Vern Harper

Well known as the “Urban Elder”, Vern “Asin” Harper is a native Cree spiritual elder and medicine man living in Toronto. A descendent of two hereditary chiefs, he is a fifth generation grandson of chief Mistawasis and a sixth generation grandson of chief Big Bear, who fought the last battle between the Cree nation and the Canadian government in 1885. His name Asin means “stone”.

Vern Harper © Matthew Wiley / photo courtesy Matthew Wiley

Vern has been leading sweat lodges all over North America for decades. I first met him in 1990 at his lodge near Guelph, Ontario for my first “sweat”.

The sweat lodge (Vern says the proper term is purification lodge) is a traditional Native American prayer ceremony held in a kind of domed hut usually made of bent saplings that are traditionally covered with skins, or now-a-days, canvas. People attending the purification crawl inside the lodge and sit in a circle around a pit-like depression in the ground. Once inside red hot stones (the Native American people call them “grandfathers”) are placed in the pit and the entrance door is shut tight.

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Sitting in a circle on the cold earth, the experience is very womb-like. Utterly dark inside except for the glow of the red hot grandfathers, herbs and water are then sprinkled over the stones and the singing begins. I can tell you it is an intense experience. Some people have visions. Some just hunker down and survive. Whatever happens you emerge feeling totally relaxed, renewed and lighter. You actually are lighter and it is time to drink plenty of water to replenish the fluid loss.

Last Sunday I attended a sweat / purification ceremony led by Vern at his lodge near Guelph, Ontario. I was able to interview him.

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I gratefully accept your comments and feedback.

 

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May there be peace in our hearts.

May there be peace for all humanity.

May there be perfect peace on earth.


Comments

At A Sweat Lodge With Native Elder Vern Harper — 24 Comments

  1. Hi Dev, I am a Phd student in archaeology, and I am working on understanding the sweat lodge experience that would have taken place among the Ancestral Wendat almost 500 years ago in southern Ontario. I am trying to talk to people about their experience in a certain way, so that the respect of the ceremony is maintained, and sensitivity on the topic is recognized. I am interested in the physical sensations that take place, including changing perspective of time and space. I do not want to delve in the individual spiritual element that takes place, as I believe that is something sacred, that should not be shared in such an open manner. Through my studies, I have recognized the uniqueness to sweats, but there are certain parallels that I am trying to draw upon. I would like to talk to you in more detail about what I am doing, and if you have any comments, concerns, and guidance that can help me along. If you are interested in this, I would love to discuss further with you.

      • Thanks for your replay Dev . My personal email has been given internally when I sent this message through your message system. In that way should be private any info from you. Could you please advise me how can I contact him or how to proceed?

        Thanks!

  2. Hello…I’m a fourth year sundancer from Vancouver island. I’ve moved to Hamilton and I’m lookin for a community sweat. Any info would be appreciated.
    Metakuye oyasin….

  3. Finding out a bit to late about a hereditary illness has turned my life a bit out of touch with myself and my spirituality at times. I had just found out a few yrs. ago with the help of my passed on grandmother Vivian Harper and passed on Bappa which whom is a descendant of the Osage Tribe, That I am a Harper. I always knew I was different and gifted from others but never understood why. My elders in spirit have been keeping me alive but didn’t know why until now. I have been given a gift just like my Great Grand Uncle Vern Harper and it he who my grandparents need me to be healed by. I pray that I can get help ASAP for I need to help my daughter before my passing. Please contact me VIA phone only for I am not on the computer to often. 1-734-751-2459. My Great Grand Elder Vern Harper knows my struggles for he has led me down the Red Path. Many great Blessings and hope to hear from the family that has been kept from me for to long.

  4. hello Dev hows things? say hello to Vern for me please. I hope to run into him and do some talking with him in the near future. at the land. and I hope to see you there too not sure you remember me but I also drove Vern all over Ontario and was his fire keeper and warrior outside the lodge for many ceremonies’ in many prisons all over Ontario with my brother Dan
    here’s to seeing you well :Charlie Rogers one of the originals!!!!!!

  5. I am Upper Mohawk, Turtle Clan, I live in Hamilton and would like to go to a Purification Lodge.
    Could you please e-mail me back where I could go to one in my surrounding area. I go to
    Lilydale New York every year where they have a lodge, but would like to go more often if one was closer. Is there one on the Six Nations Rez, I am only 20 minutes away.

    Thanks, may the spirits bless you

    • Hi Roz

      Vern likes to check over anyone who wants to join his sweat lodges. He doesn’t use a computer so what I can do is pass on your phone number to him. Just get back to me on how he can reach you. It may take some time.

      Dev

  6. Hi Dev;
    Fellow classmates and I were talking about traditional cerimonies from around the world and we are interested in the Native American Purification Ceremony. Is there a place were a group of us can learn about the history of it, hear stories, and participate in one with Urban Elder Asin(Vern Harper) or another Elder.

    Much appreciated
    Julie

  7. Hi…
    Ive been looking for a lodge for some time now. Ive been sweating for 6 yrs and ive sundanced for four years on vancouver island. I moved to hamilton and have had trouble finding a lodge. Could you lead me in the proper direction?
    Metakuye oyasin

  8. Hi there i am a Sundancer,and its been awhile since i been to a sweat,and im going to Toronto for vacation and i would like to meet you and have a talk with you and would also like to have a sweat with you :) please reply back

  9. Hello Dev, I happened upon your interview videos with Elder Vern Harper a few days ago. What a beautiful man. I also read your own biography information and love learning about people who have been able to cut themselves open, let their insides out and leave their covering behind. I bow to the divine in you.

    I would like to be a part of a purification ceremony with Elder Harper. Is there a way I could get in touch with him to ask. I would be most interested in hearing him speak as well if you are aware of any upcoming opportunities.

    I look sonforward to hearing from you.

    Peace and blessings your way,
    Julia

  10. I am a student in the Indigenous Studies program at Mcmaster University. I first off want to say think you for posting this.

    I do have some questions for you if you don’t mind me asking.

    The IP near here would most likely never let you record anything such and this. They keep their ceremonies close to their heart for fear of it being appropriated by white people such as myself and using it to try and sell the ceremonies to people. I am in no way saying you would do this I am just wondering if you ran into any issues from people fearing this being online etc because of this.

    I am somewhere down the line Ojibway, it is very far down and on my Grandfathers side so I have no clan or anything like that. But it is nice to learn more about this simply because I can learn more about my heritage however fragmented it is.

    Thank you again :)

    • Hi Kelsey

      As of today that video has been online for almost a year and has had over 2000 views. I’ve not had any negative comment on it and the closest thing to that was someone questioning Vern’s status as a contrary.

      Dev

  11. Hi Dev,
    It was so nice to hear Vern’s voice again and to see him at the sweatlodge spot. My mom was Flora Piche and she was the Kokum until she died. I only went to the sweat a few times with my mom and haven’t been since after she died, Vern had a washing of the tears ceremony for us. Unfortunately the tears still flow for my mother.
    Please say hello to Vern for me and my family. We all miss him. I hope he is well. Is there an address where i can send him a card?

      • Hi Dev,
        It is wonderful to hear that Vern’s doing well! He means so much to our family.
        Thank you very much for getting back to me so soon. I can hardly wait to be in touch with him again.

  12. Hello Dev
    I used to Drive Vern and Coty around when she was four. It has been quite a while since I have been in touch. I just found out today a mutual friend of ours passed away on Monday and I am not sure if Vern knows. Dr. Robert Salter’s funeral is tomorrow at 10 am. I hope you can pass this information on to him. The information is in the star Obituaries for this week. Miigwetch
    Spirit

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