After the Northwest Resistance of 1885, three Canadian officials put forward a proposal for a system of racial segregation – whites from First Nations – to their Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, who enthusiastically approves, declaring: “…it is in the highest degree desirable to adopt it.” From then on, and for over 60 years, permits to leave reserve would only be issued at the pleasure of an Indian Agent. From day one, the Canadian government knew this segregationist pass system had no legal basis.
The system kept First Nations parents from their children in residential schools, from visiting relatives, from access to towns and cities, and from enjoying the basic freedom of mobility that every settler Canadian took for granted.
The Pass System is a result of a five year investigation involving extensive, pan-Canadian archival research and elders’ oral history testimony, revealing a system that appears to be much more widespread than previously thought. Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Ojibwe and Blackfoot Elders from Treaty areas 4, 6 & 7 (Saskatchewan & Alberta), tell stories of living under and resisting the system. Leading historians and scholars such as Winona Wheeler, Sarah Carter, J.R. Miller, Brian Titley, Shauneen Pete, and the film’s Historical Consultant John S. Milloy, provide key context essential to understanding the system’s many impacts that reverberate to this day.
Narrated by legendary actor and activist, Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall), The Pass System features haunting music by Juno-nominated Cree/Mennonite Composer Cris Derksen.
51 min / Canada / 2015