Segregation. In Canada.


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. Nehiyaw, Saulteaux, Dene, Ojibwe and Niitsitapi 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 CarterJ.R. Miller, Brian TitleyShauneen 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, The Pass System features haunting music by Juno-nominated Cree/Mennonite Composer Cris Derksen.


Director, Producer, Cinematographer and Writer Alex Williams is behind the film’s research and production, but this was very much a collaborative project that engaged with many Elders, historians, community knowledge keepers and artists, and arose from conversations and collaborations with Tara Beagan, Wanda Nanibush, Executive Producer James Cullingham and many others. Alex was raised in Saskatoon in Treaty 6 and found the subject essential to understanding societal divides and inequities that persist to this day. When it appeared that the government had destroyed many documents relating to the system, and the historical record was incomplete (and very much still is) it was clear this historical injustice needed to be widely exposed for the racist and segregationist practice that it was.


Filmmaker, Journalist and Historian James Cullingham, producer of films on related subjects, brought Tamarack Productions’ considerable experience and expertise to the production in his role as Executive Producer.


The Pass System was made with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council the Toronto Arts Council, many artist-run media arts centres across the country, as well as many community supporters, and was produced in association with Tamarack Productions


The film has been touring extensively across Canada and consulting with communities both inside and outside the areas known to be impacted by the pass system. Emerging from these screenings and panel discussions is a picture of a system more extensive than the film depicts. It is as yet unknown how many communities were affected by mobility controls by the Canadian state.



With (in order of appearance)

Rosie Red Crow   Andy Blackwater   Philip Favel  Winona Wheeler

John S. Milloy   J.R. Miller   Danny Musqua   Sarah Carter

Louise English   Jacob Pete   Shauneen Pete   Kenneth Seesequasis

Therese Seesequasis   Brian Titley   Leona Blondeau   Lori Blondeau

Rev. Stan Cuthand   Hugh Dempsey   Don Light   Alex Janvier

Ivan Checkosis   Fort Pitt Farms Gospel Choir   Kelsey Ann Wolver

Written, Produced & Directed by Alex Williams

Executive Producer James Cullingham

Narration Tantoo Cardinal

Music Composed and Performed by Cris Derksen

Cinematography Alex Williams

Editor Igal Hecht

Historical Consultant John S. Milloy

image_pass_the-pass-system_ccThis film was made with assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council, with many community supporters, and produced in association with Tamarack Productions.




Please contact
distribution@vtape.org – (416) 351-1317, to get a copy of the film for your organization, educational institution, or association, or for screening requests in your community.

Community and Indiegogo Supporters

Julianna Barabas   Patrick Beagan   Jason Bekattla   Steven Davies

Dean Donnelly   Chris Goldie   Mary Goldie   Cathy Gordon

Jill Ker Conway   David Kofol   Trevor Schwellnus   Cher Obediah

Andrea Holtslander   Ruth Madoc-Jones   Liv Marken    Andrew Miller

Treena Orchard   Marina Serrão   Laura Sparling   Cady Williams   Helen Williams-Ginsberg

© 2016 Alex Williams | Design: The L. Project (www.thelproject.ca)