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The Pass System

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Sat May 14, 7:30pm Gibsons Heritage Playhouse. The Pass System illuminates a shocking time when Canada embraced racial segregation: willfully and illegally denying Indigenous peoples the basic freedom to leave their reserves, and jailing them when they did so without a pass. Canada, 2015, 51min. Directed by Alex Williams. Music by Aboriginal cellist and composer Cris Derksen.

 Green Film Series screens 'The Pass System' Sat May 14, Gibsons Heritage Playhouse


"It was an illegal... system that was put in place as a temporary 'security measure' after the events of 1885 that stuck around for over 60 years," says director Alex Williams. "Its intent was, in the words of one historian, to keep [indigenous] people out of the towns and cities."

The Pass System illuminates Canada’s hidden history of racial segregation. For over 60 years, the Canadian government often denied Indigenous peoples the basic freedom to leave their reserves without a pass. Cree, Saulteaux, Dene, Ojibwe and Blackfoot elders of the prairie land where this took place tell their stories of living under and resisting the system, and link their experiences to today. Acclaimed Cree actor and activist Tantoo Cardinal (Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall) narrates this investigative look into a little-known Canada. Music by aboriginal cellist and composer Cris Derksen.

The pass system was created in 1885, enforced into the 1940s, and in effect through the 1950's

In the wake of the Northwest Resistance of 1885, three Canadian officials put forward a proposal for a system of segregation – whites from First Nations - to the Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. His response was that “…it is in the highest degree desirable to adopt it.” He then signed an internal order that became an unofficial policy of Indian Affairs. Henceforth, a pass to get off reserve would only be issued at the pleasure of the local Indian Agent, a man who controlled every aspect of First Nations lives, holding judicial powers. The Government of Canada knew the pass system had no basis in law, but the system nonetheless lasted over six decades.

This 51 minute documentary tells first-hand stories of the pass system's affect on First Nations families. They were cut off from their children in residential schools, other relatives, and dispossessed of the ability to freely hunt, fish and trade, resulting in devastating and lasting financial impacts, with obvious human consequences. This film seeks to document the living, but little-known history of the pass system told by the people whose families lived through it.

One of the few surviving passes. Still from 'The Pass System' screening at Gibsons Heritage Playhouse, Sat May 14


The Pass System Official Trailer from Alex Williams on Vimeo.