Gathering Theme: The Pass System – Segregation in Canada

GATHERING THEME

The Pass System: Segregation in Canada

“Charles Sawphawpahkayo wanted to get married. To do that, the man from a reserve near Duck Lake, Sask. now known as Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation would need to travel to the bigger town of Battleford, about 140 kilometres away as the crow flies.

Before he could leave, however, Sawphawpahkayo would need the written authorization of the local Indian agent, who signed the required permission slip—issued by the Department of Indian Affairs — on June 3, 1897. The agent granted him 10 days away from the reserve.”

This is an example of the Pass System in Canada.

The  information presented here comes from viewing the film of the same name directed by Alex Williams, and by borrowing extensively from articles on the internet, particularly  a very extensive one by Joanna Smith, Ottawa Bureau correspondent for the Toronto Star, as well as on line conversations with Alex Williams. I think that we are indebted to Williams for five years of research before he produced his film, and he could not have done so without the oral history of a number of Indigenous persons.  See the RESOURCES section of our website for a link to the film.

The history of the pass system in Canada is very dark and shrouded in mystery and will require a great deal more research.  But there are several elements beyond dispute.  

Smith  states that the system was first implemented as an emergency measure — designed to be temporary — in response to the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel, and the Northwest Rebellion in Saskatchewan (1885) as” the Canadian government was concerned resistance could grow out of control if indigenous people began leaving their reserves to join in.”

It was formalized after 1885 at the suggestion of then Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs Hayter Reed and approved by his superior Edgar Dewdney, in a document entitled “Memorandum to the honourable the Indian Commissioner for the Future Management of Indians”. Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald’s  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.

It lasted nearly 60 years without ever going through Parliament.

It is one example of policies and practices that were often arbitrarily applied by Indian Agents. What’s particularly suspicious about the pass system is how light the surviving documentation is, considering its powerful and illegal control of people. The pass system had no basis in law, but the system nonetheless lasted over six decades. Although not without exception, it appears to have been applied primarily in Treaties 4, 6 and 7.
Macdonald acknowledged they were on shaky ground in that requiring passes would violate treaty rights:

pass-161In a letter to Indian Commissioner Edgar Dewdney on October 28, 1885. Macdonald wrote : “…should resistance be offered on the ground of Treaty rights the obtaining of a pass should not be insisted upon as regards loyal Indians.”  Indian agents were supplied with books of passes, or permits to leave. As you can see from the photo of one of the passes, the time the individual is allowed to be off reserve is recorded, as is the purpose of the time away, and whether or not he is allowed to carry a gun. So the “pass system” was initially applied to “rebel Indians” but later expanded for all First Nations.

In order to obtain a pass, individuals would often have to travel many days by foot to the Agent’s house, not knowing if he would be there when they arrived. If the Agent was away, they would either camp and wait, or return home. If the need to leave the reserve was pressing, such as to sell market-ready produce, the delay resulted in produce that rotted. First Nation farmers also were required to have a permit to sell their produce. The pass system additionally enabled the government to attempt to quash potlatches, the Sun Dance and other cultural practices.

The North-West Mounted Police was the only agency that protested the system. In 1893, Commissioner Lawrence William Herchmer ordered members of the force to stop returning people without passes to the reserves.

(“You know something is wrong when the cops say don’t do it,” said film Director Williams)

Hayter Reed, who was then in charge of the Indian Affairs department, overruled the Mounties but acknowledged in a letter that year “there has never been any legal authority for compelling Indians who leave their Reserves to return to them.” Later, he also wrote: “all we can do is to endeavour to keep the true position from the Indians as long as possible.”

The system remained in effect until 1941 and was formally repealed in 1951. Oral history also records stories told by First Nations people who either experienced the pass system themselves, or remember relatives talking about it.

As reported by Smith, one powerful testimony comes from Elder Therese Seesequasis, of Beardy’s and Okemasis First Nation, who recalls spending 10 months of the year away from her family at residential school.

“We sure spent some lonely, lonely days . . . Our parents didn’t even come for Christmas,” Seesequasis says.

Smith points out that “the pass system helped support the residential school system as Indian agents would often refuse to sign passes if they suspected they would be used to visit children there.”

Winona Wheeler, an historian and professor of indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan said in an interview with Smith that oral history is crucial to understanding what happened.

“I think without hearing those stories, a lot of stuff has been glossed over or hidden or has not surfaced in the public realm, because documents go missing or documents have not been made accessible in the archives,” says Wheeler who drew a parallel to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission having to fight the government for access to archives on residential schools.

Williams said only two actual passes exist at Library and Archives Canada and he suspects many were deliberately destroyed by a government who knew what it was doing was illegal. There is also one at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary and two in the Saskatchewan archives.

A letter dated July 11, 1941 by Harold McGill, who was director of the Indian Affair branch at the department of mines and resources was circulated to Indian agents to put an official end to the pass system, saying there was no law compelling First Nations people to stay on their reserves and that they were “free to come and go” like everyone else.

McGill mentions government lawyers having come to that conclusion in 1900 — for which Williams could find no documentation — and also makes a request: “If you have any such forms in your possession kindly return them to the Department where they will be destroyed”.

Smith records the story of Leona Blondeau, 82, who “was 8 years old when the extralegal federal government policy was officially revoked in 1941, but she and other living witnesses to history recall restrictions on their movements lasting until at least her teenage years.

We never went anywhere. We stayed on the reserve. We were very segregated . . . It was the way life was, I thought. I didn’t realize that wasn’t the right thing to do,” said Blondeau.

She remembers being 14 years old when she and her siblings — she was the eldest of six — came home from residential school for the summer and their mother took them to the closest town, Punnichy, Sask., for the day.

“We travelled by wagon and horse and go there and our treat was an ice cream cone. That was our treat for the day,” Blondeau recalled.

She says her mother had to get permission from the local Indian agent before she could create those memories with her children.

permit-to-sell“They were like a receipt and you had to tell how long you were going away off the reserve and he signed them to give you his permission,” she said.

Blondeau remembers a happy childhood spent close to her family, but says that as she grew older she became angry and resentful at how limited her life and future appeared.

Why didn’t the First Nations people complain you might ask? Until 1951 First Nations people were denied the right to counsel; the Indian Act prohibited people to hire a lawyer to defend themselves.

In addition, Indian Agents in Western Canada were empowered as Justices of the Peace, and so mounting a defence against them would have been difficult. As well, people were not allowed to complain to anyone but the Indian Agent (who was the one implementing the policy) So, in fact the Agency could be the perpetrator, judge and complaints officer all in one.

Why do we need to know this history? The TRC report is entitled: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future.” Can you imagine the sense of shame adults, both men and women would feel having to ask permission to go hunting, to go fishing, to go visit their own children? What would this do to the self confidence, the self worth people would feel?  Furthermore this control of Indigenous people, in their movements, in their rituals, in their farming and hunting and even in their visits to their children without question helped create an intergenerational sense of dependency. We need to support Indigenous people as they break out of it.  

Opening Protocol for Meetings

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.


Opening Protocol

  1. I wish to acknowledge that we are on the original lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.
  2. Following the presentation of the topic for today, a general discussion will follow with each of you being given an opportunity to speak to the issue. You are encouraged to keep in mind seven sacred teachings of the Anishinaabe in your thoughts and words.
  3. (The Seven Sacred Teachings are then to be read aloud by one of the participants)
    LOVE: it is important to care for one another
    HONESTY: better to fail with honesty than succeed by fraud
    RESPECT: give it, earn it, receive it.
    TRUTH: it is always easiest to speak the truth
    HUMILITY: to be humble about your accomplishments is to be strong
    COURAGE: let nothing stand in the way of doing the right thing
    WISDOM: with hard work and dedication will come knowledge
  4. Sharing around the circle, clockwise is recommended. Should you wish to “pass” at that time, you will be given a chance at the end to offer your thoughts. While you may not wish to speak at all on a given week, your participation is desired as each individual has gifts to offer the circle.
  5.  An item, such as a talking stick, will be passed around giving each person a chance to speak. Speak on behalf of yourself only and speak what comes from your heart and from your own experience.
  6. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  7. In accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, the four guiding principles for the new relationship are “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing, and mutual responsibility.” (Interim Report, page 23)
  8. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings.

 

Opening protocol for the first circle

I would like to share with you some of the feedback we have received from our participants. While most of it has been very positive, there have been several concerns raised.

Our non-Indigenous participants have sometimes been frustrated when Indigenous participants have not continued in the group after the first few meetings.

Our Indigenous participants also have some concerns. Some feel that too much burden has been placed upon them to share difficult moments of their past, while the non-Indigenous participants have not felt that same obligation. We need to respect each other’s stories. We cannot ask Indigenous participants to share if the non-Indigenous partners are not also willing to share.

A second concern Indigenous people have expressed is in the form of a question: “Why should we have to educate settlers about things they should have learnt in school or elsewhere? It is not our job to educate them”. The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that settlers did not learn it in school. Period. But now there are plenty of books, T.V. programs and media reports that are telling the stories. Non-Indigenous people cannot be blamed for not learning this in school, but there is no longer an excuse to be ignorant. Now that we know a little more, we can do something about it. Let’s all take responsibility ourselves to learn more and do something about it. Our circles give us a wonderful opportunity to meet one another, to get to know one another, to hear the stories of one another and to build that mutual respect that the TRC states is the foundation of reconciliation. Knowledge has to add empathy to bring about change.

There is another reason we encourage Indigenous participants to take part in our circles. We hope your children and grandchildren will no longer have to experience the racism and ignorance that has marked Canadian history and Indigenous lives for so long. You can help end that with your participation. We hope you will grace us with your presence and participation. We need you!

To our non-Indigenous participants, we want to ask you to share some of your own history. How does it relate or does it not relate to Indigenous people in Canada? Why have you not been taught more about Canada’s broken promises to Indigenous people or about your relationships with the systems that uphold the status quo? Together, our sharing can lead us to live by the treaties that our forefathers signed in our name.

Gathering Theme: Canadian Public Opinion on Aboriginal Peoples

GATHERING THEME

Canadian Public Opinion on Aboriginal Peoples

1. Opening common to all gatherings.

2. Introduction of the theme by facilitator.

In June, 2016, Environics Institute published the Final Report of its 2016 national survey of non-Aboriginals in Canada on their attitudes toward Aboriginal peoples. The survey includes many comparisons to a survey they conducted called the Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study in 2008. One of many sponsors of the survey was the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Here are some of the key findings of the 2016 survey with comparative findings with 2008.

  1. One quarter (26%) of the non-Aboriginal respondents say that their views of Aboriginal peoples have improved over the last few years.  (61% “stayed the same”, 10% gotten worse).
  2. “Personal contact with Aboriginal peoples” has not changed much since 2009; “Often” (26%), occasionally, (30%)
  3. A majority (56%) agreed more needs to be done to educate school children about abuse and discrimination faced by Aboriginals, and 75% said funding for reserve schools should match was is paid in the rest of Canada.
  4. The biggest challenge faced by Aboriginals, when asked unprompted, is “stigma, inequality, discrimination.”  It topped the list (18%, up from 6% in 2008) of about ten issues.
  5. There is little optimism among Non-Aboriginals that progress is being made in narrowing the gap in living standards (“getting bigger” 22%; “Not really changing” 54 %).
  6. Nine out of ten say Aboriginal  people are “often” (46%) or “sometimes” the subject of discrimination. This perception has increased by 13% since 2004 and 2006 surveys.
  7. There is an increase in agreement that Canadians have a role in reconciliation; 84% up from 67% in 2008.
  8. THE BIG PICTURE

CANADIAN PUBLIC OPINION ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES

Connected Advocates (18%) High level of contact and strong belief that Aboriginal peoples often experience discrimination.

Young Idealists (23%) Idealistic and optimistic, Close to Connected Advocates but they do not have as much knowledge of history and current challenges and not the same level of personal engagement. They may be the next group of Connected Advocates. Female and urban, concentrated in Toronto and Montreal, immigrants, often students.

Informed Critics (23%) Knowledgeable like the Advocates, but not especially sympathetic to challenges and aspirations of Aboriginals. Oldest and most affluent of all five groups, and most urban, concentrated in the West.

Disconnected Skeptics (21%) Uninformed and unaware, they typically think Aboriginal peoples are no different from other Canadians. Like the Dismissive naysayers, but without the emotional negativity. Simply don’t know and don’t care. More of a male-dominated group, often young and foreign born. Found in Quebec and rural regions.

Dismissive Naysayers (14%), tend to view Aboriginal peoples and communities negatively, i.e., entitled and isolated from Canadian society. Opposite end of spectrum from Advocates.  Most likely to be male, somewhat older, higher than average incomes but not higher than average education. Least urban and concentrated on the prairies.

3. Sharing Circle

4. Determination of the theme for the next meeting and the reader.

5. Resources:

i. Readings
ii. Videos
iii. Organizations
iv. Actions

6. Closing common to all gatherings.

Gathering Theme: Reconciliation

GATHERING THEME

Reconciliation

1. Opening common to all gatherings.

2. Introduction to this gathering “Reconciliation”

(To be read by two participants who previously agreed to do this. There are two readings, one from the TRC final report, with a comment by Murray Sinclair, and the other, a reflection on reconciliation particularly directed to Indigenous people from an article by Maggie Hodgson)

Reconciliation at the Crossroads (taken from the final report of the TRC)

“To some people, reconciliation is the re-establishment of a conciliatory state. However, this is a state that many Aboriginal people assert never has existed between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. To others, reconciliation, in the context of Indian residential schools, is similar to dealing with a situation of family violence. It’s about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward. It is in the latter context that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has approached the question of reconciliation.

To the Commission, reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour.

We are not there yet. The relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples is not a mutually respectful one. But, we believe we can get there, and we believe we can maintain it.”

Reconciliation must support Aboriginal peoples as they heal from the destructive legacies of colonization that have wreaked such havoc in their lives. But it must do even more. Reconciliation must inspire Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share. (Honouring the Truth, page 6 and 7)

“Many people came to the conversation without really thinking about reconciliation was. They kept focusing on what reconciliation wasn’t. It wasn’t about forgiveness. It wasn’t about sovereignty. It wasn’t about title to the land. It wasn’t about government control. So they came with a bunch of negative perspectives. Once we came to terms with understanding that reconciliation is establishing a balanced and respectful relationship between two or more sovereign and existing entities, and in a way that allows them to function in a partnership going forward, I think that idea gelled very quickly for us. “ (Murray Sinclair, Reconciliation Nation, by Ruth Shead, UM Today, The Magazine, Fall, 2015, p. 27)

___________________________________________________________________

Maggie Hodgson, a member of the Nadleh Whuten Carrier First Nation, works locally, nationally, and internationally on justice and healing initiatives. She was the founder and host for the first “Healing Our Spirit Worldwide” gathering held in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1992. The full text of her article, “Reconciliation: A Spiritual Process” is provided by a link on our website.

Reconciliation: A Spiritual Process

“It is up to you!” Elder Abe Burnstick

“Reconciliation is a Western concept that describes a process of bringing one’s spirit to a place of peace. The long-term goal of reconciliation is to prepare ourselves for the time we go to the other side in peace. Peace is a state of spirit. We get there through hard work on our part or a willingness to ask the Creator to help us find peace in our hearts. The process of reconciliation is embodied in our mind, flesh, spirit, and attitude. We either choose to stay in pain and in anger or we are willing to do the work to effect change for ourselves. This does not necessarily mean the person or the government or the church that hurt us has to be sorry before we come to a place of peace. Coming to a place of peace and setting our spirits free from pain is a longterm process for most people and communities. Finding that place in our spirits is a lifelong journey. The reward for doing our work is being a people of hope, spirit, and commitment. We do this to ensure that our grandchildren will not have to live with our spiritual, emotional pain.

Many former residential school students experienced trauma from being disconnected from their family. Those who have moved forward understand that in order to heal from our pain we have to speak our truth and take responsibility for change. We have chosen to reverse the central pillars of the intent of residential schools and surrounding legislation that drove a spike into the hearts of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples. The chilling language surrounding the “Indian question” clearly defined the legislators’ intent, which was to assimilate Aboriginal peoples by outlawing traditional ceremonies, removing children from families, and cutting off access to language and sense of identity. In 1920, Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott told Parliament that the object of assimilation was to continue “until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.”1 One cannot separate residential schools from those policies because they decreed that our children should not live with their parents and should not have access to ceremony while they were being trained to believe our cultural beliefs and ceremonies were of the devil.”

3. Reflections by the reader.

4. Sharing Circle.

5. Determination of the theme for the next meeting and the reader.

6. Resources: 

i. Readings
ii. Videos
iii. Organizations
iv. Actions

7. Closing common to all gatherings.

First Gathering: Getting to Know You

FIRST GATHERING

 Getting to Know You

Documents and Materials to bring (Facilitator’s checklist)

  • Opening statement
  • Seven Sacred Teachings of the Anishinabe (choose a participant each week to read)
  • 6 copies of the closing protocol (choose six participants)
  • Talking stick
  • (If desired) smudging tobacco, etc., or invocation
  • Refreshments
  • Small pads of paper and pencils for participants (if necessary)
  • Other items unique to your group
  • Materials on the Theme of the meeting

1. Opening for all gatherings.
2. Introductory comments by the Facilitator for 1st gathering.

“In this first gathering we want to establish a climate of “mutual recognition and mutual respect” to use the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. No matter what your background and life experiences we want to respect you, by listening to you and by recognizing the value of you as a person and what you have to bring to our gathering.

Over the course of our gatherings we will tackle a number of issues. For example:

What is reconciliation? What does it mean to me and why is it meaningful to me.

The history and impact of residential schools.

Inter-generational trauma caused by residential schools.

Perceptions of Indigenous people by non-Indigenous people.

The meaning of land for Indigenous People.

The role of artistic expression in creating a sense of belonging.

The sixties scoop and its ongoing reality.

The justice system and Aboriginal People including FASD.

The Métis Nation.

Missing and murdered Aboriginal People.

As well as other possible themes.

Each of our meetings will end with a closing protocol.  I will bring the meeting to a close in an hour and 15 minutes. In that way those who wish to leave can do so without feeling they are disrupting anything. If others want to stay and discuss a bit longer, that is possible (as long as the facility does not have to be locked up) So we ask you to be very conscious of your sharing time. Because we will be meeting many times, you will have many opportunities to share your thoughts and feelings.

3. Sharing Circle

We are calling this first session, a “getting to know you” session, where each of us can tell a bit about ourselves.
Facilitators can google “Icebreakers for groups” and be free to choose the one best suited for their group. There are many choices. An example is the following:

a) Ask each person to find out five things about the person sitting to their right. The last of these five things might be what the person feels they know about the current move toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
b) Allow three to five minutes for questions and then have each person introduce the person to their right to the rest of the group, telling what they know about them.
c) An index card and a pencil could help participants briefly record reminders of the conversations.

An alternative would be for the facilitator to begin by suggesting the following;

I suggest that we go around the group and in about 3-4 minutes each, share the following: a) Our name, b) where we from,  c) our cultural identity/background,  d) why we decided to take part in these gatherings, e) what we hope to bring to our life from these gatherings.  Let me begin…” 

The facilitator would begin by taking about 4 or 5 minutes to share so that participants would have a sense of the expectations.

4. Setting the tone (Facilitator)

I would like to ask you how you think we can set a “tone” for our discussions so that they are respectful of one another as persons and in our use of time. Are there any thoughts you have on setting a respectful tone? We don’t have to have rules as such, but it would be helpful if we agreed on how we will conduct ourselves. (Pass the talking stick)

5. Feedback from participants

I would like to share with you some of the feedback we have received from our participants. While most of it has been very positive, there have been several concerns raised.

Our non-Indigenous participants have sometimes been frustrated when Indigenous participants have not continued in the group after the first few meetings.

Our Indigenous participants also have some concerns. Some feel that too much burden has been placed upon them to share difficult moments of their past, while the non-Indigenous participants have not felt that same obligation. We need to respect each other’s stories. We cannot ask Indigenous participants to share if the non-Indigenous partners are not also willing to share.

A second concern Indigenous people have expressed is in the form of a question: “Why should we have to educate settlers about things they should have learnt in school or elsewhere? It is not our job to educate them”. The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that settlers did not learn it in school. Period. But now there are plenty of books, T.V. programs and media reports that are telling the stories. Non-Indigenous participants cannot be blamed if they did not learn it in school, but there is no longer an excuse to be ignorant. Now that we know a little more, we can do something about it. Let’s not put all the responsibility on Indigenous participants to inform the group. Let’s all take some responsibility to learn more and do something about it. The personal stories of our Indigenous participants can be a very important part of this education of everyone in the circle.

Our circles give us a wonderful opportunity to meet one another, to get to know one another, to hear the stories of one another and to build that mutual respect that the TRC states is the foundation of reconciliation. Knowledge has to add empathy to bring about change.

There is another reason we encourage our Indigenous participants to be partners in our in our circles. This is the most important reason. We hope your children and your grandchildren will not have to experience the racism, the ignorance of your culture that has been part of our Canadian history. You can help end that with your participation. We hope you will grace us with your presence and participation. We need you!

To our non-Indigenous participants, we want to ask you to share some of your own history. How does it relate or does it not relate to Indigenous people in Canada? Together, our sharing can lead us to honour and to live by the treaties that our forefathers signed in our name.

6. Resources

i. Readings
ii. Videos
iii. Organizations
iv. Actions

7. Closing for all gatherings.

Five of the participants will each read one sentence from the “Closing Remarks for All Gatherings” and all will join the 6th person in reading the last sentence of the closing.

Themes for Discussion

Themes for Discussion

What is reconciliation? What does it mean to me and why is it meaningful to me.

The history and impact of residential schools.

Inter-generational trauma caused by residential schools.

Perceptions of Indigenous people by non-Indigenous people and the perceptions of non-Indigenous peoples by Indigenous peoples, based on surveys conducted in Winnipeg and across Canada.

The meaning of land for indigenous peoples.

Barriers Indigenous people face.

The role of artistic expression in creating a sense of belonging.

Planning for the future of reconciliation.

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