Indian Ernie talks racism, PTSD, and policing in Saskatoon

He survived.

That is how Ernie Louttit, well known as Indian Ernie, described almost 30 years with the Saskatoon Police Service.

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Now retired for three years, he has two books out about his experiences as the third aboriginal police officer in Saskatoon.

He shared his story with a full house at the Reid-Thompson Library on Oct. 17.

Humboldt was the sixth or seventh stop that Louttit has been to while he has been recently touring and the Northern Ontario born Louttit is happy that he gets to see more of the less famous parts of Saskatchewan.

Louttit started out in the army and joined the police in 1987.

Even though this was a time when minorities and women were being encouraged to join the police service, this did not make them wanted, says Louttit.

“It was pretty clear when you started there that you were here to fill a requirement, not because we want you.”

Louttit also had to deal with the aboriginal community in Saskatoon, which was not so bad, he says. Some of people hated him for working for the system but Louttit says that he worked on getting out in his communities,  \places like

Riversdale, Pleasant Hill, downtown that need the most policing, something not all police officers did at the time.

“When I didn’t have a call, I’d get out of my car and I’d walk around. People didn’t see this residential areas.”

Louttit says you could always tell who had warrants because they ran, while the people who did not have warrants but did not like police would like to see who you were going to get.

This is also how he became to be known as Indian Ernie, a name he is very proud of, he says, because it was the kids around Saskatoon who made the name stick.

“God bless kids, because they have no filter,” says Louttit, who said he always had kids running up to him and asking him questions, his name and whether he was an “Indian”.

The name stuck to the point where even criminals and witnesses would ask for Indian Ernie.

Being a part of the community is something he passed on to younger police officers.

Even with an eventful career in Saskatoon, Louttit had plenty of funny stories to go along with the heartfelt and compassionate ones.

He says that keeping perspective has helped him through his own PTSD, especially when considering life from the point of view of someone that he might deal with while he is working.

“For as such as I was having a hard time dealing with trauma and some of the things that I’d see, the person who was living it was having a harder time. So I always use that perspective to keep it as natural as I could get it.”

After almost 30 years, Louttit did still love his job but knew it was time to retire.

“I thought, ‘I’m leaving while they’re still talking about me, not throwing rocks at me telling me to retire.’”

This is also why he decided to write his books. He says he would have burst into flames sitting behind the desk as an administrator but he loved being a leader and making a difference.

Writing books was a way he could make an influence and it was not as dangerous.

He talks about many important topics in the book, including racism, PTSD, and being a leader in the community.

At the start of his career, Louttit was a rough and tough police officer, but he soon realized that was getting him nowhere.

Changing his attitude gave him a more gratifying career as a police officer, simply by telling someone after he arrested them and after they calmed down that everything was going to be okay and that they were in charge of their actions after their arrest.

When he started to ask about the whys of why people were committing crime or being drunk or involved with drugs, Louttit learned that the why is just as important as the what of a crime.

This was another lesson he tried to pass on to his younger police officers, which Louttit says they were teaching him by the time he retired.

Losing patience with one disruptive Saskatoon man multiple times, a younger officer was called to deal with him. By simply asking him what his story was the officer was able to connect with the man. After Louttit knew it helped him understand the reasons behind this man’s behaviour and how to work with him.

Despite all that has happened in Saskatchewan lately and Louttit says it breaks his heart just to see it, he says that Saskatchewan is getting better when it comes to racism in the province.

Louttit says he is the ultimate outsider being from outside the province and an aboriginal.

From his own experience, Saskatchewan has made a lot of progress.

“I know it’s not a perfect picture but it’s a lot better picture than what it was and that’s from an outsider looking in.”

But there are still people who are going to hate each other, that is not going to change he says. When it comes to people calling or not calling him an “Indian”, Louttit says that some people do not want to use the term.

“We’ve come that attuned to how people feel,” he says.

Louttit is now working on his third book.

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