The Pass System

(Canada, 2015, 51 mins, DCP)
World Premiere
FEATURING Tantoo Cardinal
EXEC James Cullingham
PROD Alex Williams
SCR Alex Williams
CAM Alex Williams
ED Igal Hecht
MUS Cris Derksen
PROD CO Tamarack Productions
Classification: G - No advisory


Alex Williams’ film 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. In 1885 General Middleton introduced the Pass System in Western Canada, under which First Nations people could not leave their reserves without first obtaining a pass from their farming instructors permitting them to do so. While neither the Indian Act nor any other legislation allowed the Department of Indian Affairs to institute such a system, and it was known by government lawyers to be illegal as early as 1892, the Pass System continued to be enforced until the early 1930s. As Aboriginal people were not permitted at that time to become lawyers, they could not fight it in the courts.

Cree, Soto, Dene, Ojibwe and Blackfoot elders of the prairie land 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 scar on Canada’s relationship with her people. Music by Aboriginal cellist and composer Cris Derksen.

Preceded By: Clouds of Autumn

DIR Trevor Mack, Matthew Taylor Blais / BC, 2015, 15 min.

Two siblings endure the impact a residential school has on their relationship with themselves, one another and nature itself.

Preceded By: Kokom

DIR Kevin Papatie / QC, 2014, 5 min.

A beautiful experimental tribute to the filmmaker’s grandmother and her people, who’ve survived the trials of history and remained strong.

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Tamarack Productions