Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Morstad
The Globe and Mail, November 3, 2001
Part 4 of 9: THE INDIAN'S COP AND THE COWBOY
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.