A new film called “The Pass System” highlights racist policies against Indian peoples in Canada

By Dale Johnson Posted: November 18, 2015 6:00 a.m.

A documentary uncovers a dark period in Canadian history, when Indians needed a signed pass if they wanted to travel off reserves.
A documentary uncovers a dark period in Canadian history, when Indians needed a signed pass if they wanted to travel off reserves. Photo courtesy of Shauneen Pete

A new documentary film shows how the Canadian government tried to segregate Indians from Whites in Canada’s early days.

Some of that story, to be screened in Regina November 25, is told by the U of R’s Shauneen Pete.

Starting in the 1880s the "pass system" limited the movements of Indian people, unless they had permission from the Indian Agent.

Although no legislation was ever passed to allow this, the North-West Mounted Police were directed to enforce the system.

The pass system continued well into the 1930s.

“The Pass system undermined the ability of Indian people to participate in the changing economy, and to freely visit their children in residential schools,” explains Shauneen Pete, Associate Professor (Aboriginal Education) and Executive Lead of Indigenization at the University of Regina.

Pete has a personal interest in the story the film tells.

Dr. Shauneen Pete
Dr. Shauneen Pete is Executive Lead of Indigenization at the University of Regina

“The producer, Alex Williams, contacted me about my great-grandfather’s pass that I had posted on Facebook. He explained that he was developing a documentary about the Pass System, and we met and I suggested that he meet with my father, Jacob Pete. Both my father and I were interviewed.”

Pete says it’s crucial that all Canadians find out about the Pass System.

“My hope is that our U of R learners will gain an understanding of the way in which race based policy is Canada's story. This is not just a story that should be taken up in Indigenous Studies. By re-centering this story into curriculum in other areas, we may be able to enhance the process of university decolonization articulated under our goals of Indigenization,” she explains.

“Accepting the truth of our racist past is necessary if we are ever to move toward reconciliation.”

The Pass System (view the trailer here) will be shown for the first time in Regina on Wednesday, Nov. 25 in Room 228 of the Education Building on the main campus of the University of Regina, starting at 7:30 pm.

This is a free, public event and all people are invited to attend.