Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Morstad
The Globe and Mail, November 3, 2001
Part 5 of 9: KEEPING THE PEACE
When they get to the house, with a groomed yard that seems incongruous to the neighbourhood, they find a group of preppy blond girls trying to calm down John, a big 16-year-old who looks like he could be class valedictorian. Until he opens his mouth. He's ripped.
According to John, some natives started the fight after showing up uninvited. "Fuckin' Indians!" he shouts, suddenly pulling himself free from the girls. The police grab John and tell him to calm down. The girls, distressed at the downfall of their night, move to the back yard for a cigarette.
"They think they own the fuckin' place," John continues before blurting out, apparently unaware of Louttit's status, "Why don't you do somethin' about those fuckin' Indians?"
Hoover advises the girls to get John home because he and Louttit have another call. It takes them just a few blocks away. But it could be in another world.
At 3 a.m., seven hours into their shift, they arrive at a familiar address, a shed of a house belonging to a young mother named Judy. Tonight, Judy is drunk - she's always drunk on weekends, Louttit says - but she has another problem. Her brother, Keith, has just been released from a federal penitentiary and is crashed with his girlfriend in her basement.
Keith is the face of all those statistics on native justice. To aboriginal groups, he is a victim, the product of a dysfunctional reserve who ran into trouble young and has been in the revolving door of Canada's justice system ever since, with no opportunity for rehabilitation. To his sister, he is a Class A jerk.
Downstairs, Keith is refusing to leave, and threatening to beat up Judy if she tries to make him. The police move gingerly down a rickety staircase into the unlit cellar, where, using their flashlights, they find Keith and his girlfriend on a mattress. He co-operates as they escort him to the door.
Once Keith disappears down a back alley, Louttit tells Judy to keep the door locked, not that that will do much good. There's no glass in the kitchen window, just a hanging bed sheet that rustles in the early-morning breeze. This is how Keith got inside a few hours earlier, when Judy was out at a party and her four children were home alone. The youngest is 2 and the oldest is a 13-year-old girl, whom Louttit coaches on how to put her intoxicated mother to bed.
The girl announces, with a hint of pride in her voice, that she has done it before. She says she will also take care of the three younger ones, who are awake and in the living room, and get them breakfast in the morning, although it is not obvious what they will eat. The only food in sight is a half-filled box of cereal. The cupboards and fridge are bare.
Louttit can't help but think of his own four children, especially his daughter, who had her baseball pitching debut tonight. He missed the game, but plans to spend the weekend with her, as soon as his shift is over.
"We talk here about native problems. It's a parenting problem," he says, recalling the case of a 14-year-old boy who was to be released into the custody of his father. But the father refused to come for him. The boy was released anyway. Two days later, he was arrested for stealing bicycles.
"There's no quick solution," Louttit says, "other than to teach parents to be parents, and teach their children not to follow stereotypes."