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Pass and Permit System

Pass System

The treaties confirmed the rights the First Nations people had to travel freely and hunt where they wanted. The Canadian government broke this promise when they supported the Pass System. The Pass System meant First Nations people could only leave the reserve if the Indian Agent gave them permission.

The Indian Agents decided who could hunt and gather, how many days a person could leave for, and what they were allowed to do when they left. If a First Nations person wanted to leave the reserve to sell grain, hunt, fish, travel to town, or visit their children in a school, they had to get written permission on a card from the Indian Agent.

An illustrated Indian Agent is angrily handing over a paper that says that a First Nations man isn't permitted to carry a gun.

Reserves were like jails for First Nations people.

The Pass System prevented people from participating in cultural and spiritual activities because they were often not allowed to travel to them. Family members could not travel between reserves to visit each other.

A reserve pass that reads, “Department of Indian Affairs, pass number fifteen, Bearer: John Constant. Number 4. Band Cumberland for 22 days with one gun to visit Industrial school to see his children. Agency. 25th May 1889.

CREDIT: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan

Here’s an example of a reserve pass that First Nations people would need to go anywhere off of the reserve.

The Pass System also segregated First Nations people. It kept the First Nations people and the European settlers separate. Settlers and First Nations people were not allowed to get to know each other. When you don’t know someone, it is more difficult to understand them. Settlers had the freedom and opportunity to succeed that First Nations people did not.

A group of illustrated settlers stand together with a wagon being pulled by horses in the background.

European Settlers could travel anywhere they wanted to, while First Nations people could not.

To this day, the Pass System is not recognized by the Government of Canada. Although it was not a law in the Indian Act, the Ministry of Indian Affairs supported the Pass System and it was very real. There is evidence that suggests the Pass System was enforced until the early 1950s.

Think about this…Your grandparents were likely born when the Pass System was still in place.

Look how little freedom First Nations people had when a pass was required for them to leave the reserve.

Permit System

First Nations people also had to get a permit when they wanted to sell agricultural produce. This meant the Indian Agents could control how much money the First Nations people made. Indian Agents had the power to prevent First Nations people from selling products. Even if they got a permit to sell products, it was difficult to find someone to buy the products because a non-Indigenous person could be fined for buying from a First Nations person.

An aged ‘Permit to Sell’ paper with hand-writing on it.

Here’s an example of the permit that First Nations people need to sell products.

The permit system was unjust because it was strict and there were harsh consequences if not followed. If First Nations people refused or argued with the Indian Agent, there were consequences. The Indian Agent could put them in jail, take credit for their work and give nothing back in return, or deny them food or materials.