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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Morstad
The Globe and Mail, November 3, 2001


Saskatoon, SK As Louttit and Hoover return to their cruiser, the teenaged brothers throw an empty bottle on the sidewalk, spraying the pavement with glass, before hurling a few more insults about "white cops." They may be the only ones on the west side unaware of who Louttit is.

Despite a policeman's look, including buzz cut and mustache, the 40-year-old is known along 20th Street as the Indians' cop. In police standoffs, murderers and armed robbers have called for him by name, demanding the right to surrender to Ernie. Prostitutes wave to him from barroom tables. On the road, he and the local Hells Angels boss nod to each other respectfully.

"(The West's attitudes are) very tolerant yet very intolerant. It's very tolerant of government authority. Farmers are very intolerant of Indians."
Const. Ernie Louttits
Saskatoon Police Service

Louttit believes that he enjoys this rapport not because he is Cree but because he has a way with people. He cares about the women who are routinely beaten up, often visiting them on his day shifts to make sure that they feel safe. At 6 foot 3 and 200 pounds, he is also as hard as a hammer with anyone who tries to push him around, and he thinks that most of the west-side men respect him for it.

That was the way it always was in Oba, a tiny hamlet (population: 110) on the rail line south of Hearst, Ont., where he was born.

"It was a tough little town where everyone drank too much," he says. It also had too few people to worry much about race. Their Cree father refused to teach Louttit and his brother to speak his language, saying they should learn French instead. But their French-Canadian mother refused to co-operate, believing that French was a ticket to nowhere in Ontario.

Only after moving to Hearst for high school did the both gain a different understanding of what it can mean to be native. Of the 1,200 students in their high school, only 23 were Indian, and they were placed in a special Indian class, which rarely attracted an enthusiastic teacher.

Louttit dropped out, got a job on the railway and, at 17, joined the military police, which sent him across Canada and overseas to Cyprus. But he realized he would not be promoted without knowing French. So in 1987, while he was based in Alberta, he quit for a job with the nearby Saskatoon police.

Back in civilian life, he was surprised to discover a "different" Prairie attitude toward natives. He heard the usual slurs about Indians, on the job and in his largely white neighbourhood. He also learned about such pastimes as "brooming," in which farm boys hang out of pickup trucks and swat unsuspecting (usually drunk) natives along 20th. The boy who knocks over the most Indians wins.

The western attitude, Louttit says during a break at an all-night truck stop, is "very tolerant yet very intolerant. It's very tolerant of government authority. Farmers are very intolerant of Indians."

Dean Hoover could be one of those farmers. With seven horses and weekend jaunts to rodeos around Saskatchewan, he's all cowboy.

The son of a career RCMP officer, Hoover grew up on the Prairies watching, and admiring, the way justice used to be carried out. He still thinks that a little strong arm - and he has arms the size of a bull's leg - can help to make a point.

He is not much of a talker anyway, leaving it to his partner to calm the hotheads and comfort the injured. "We're hired to take care of criminals," Hoover says. "It's that simple."

Louttit, who understands the social conditions of natives, agrees that there is only one way to deal with people - and he is speaking of native men - who commit crimes.

Sounding like a cop anywhere in North America, he says his first duty is to the people who want a safe city and pay his salary to ensure it.

"Bottom line is there will always be a criminal element in society and there will need to be police to keep them in check," he says. "When they're in jail, they're not doing it to anyone else. I don't have to feel collectively guilty, along with my family, because he's a bad guy."

In a year together, this is the first time Louttit and Hoover have talked about the philosophy of policing. Their partnership is restricted to work and their focus is always on the task at hand. Even now, they can't dwell on the issue as an urgent call comes from another house on the west side, this time at a party where some teens have started to fight.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 9 plus related stories and links):

Photo Essay
On the beat

1. Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
Ride along with Constables Jim Louttits and Dean Hoover as they arrest a regular

2. A city divided
Allegations of rampant police abuse and complaints from the force about the native community

3. To serve and protect
Two Saskatoon police officers find themselves caught between cultures and responsible to both

Reader feedback
Check out what readers had to say about Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies.
4. The Indian's cop and the cowboy
A partnership restricted to work and focused on the task at hand

5. Keeping the peace
At 3 a.m., the shift gets busy

6. The stereotypes of 20th Street
Social agencies fight against the economics of poverty
7. Division among the Chiefs
Some leaders see police as problem, others look to the system
8. Changing the face of Saskatoon's force
Recruiting natives isn't easy - they see police as 'the enemy'
9. Daylight breaks
'Policing by its very nature means force because you're making people comply'

Related stories and links
Background information and surfing opportunities



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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