Saskatchewan·Opinion

Ernie Louttit explores trust between police and First Nations

Retired Saskatoon police officer Ernie Louttit discusses the relationship between First Nations people and police.

Louttit is a retired police officer and author of Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership

We need each other; police and First Nations. 

We interact all the time for many reasons, both good and bad. First Nations people need the police to keep the peace and protect them from crime; crime sometimes committed by our own people against our own people. 

Many First Nations people get swallowed up in urban centres and are victims of crimes in the cities, requiring police to be part of our lives.

Until we right many issues like poverty and inequality, the police and First Nations will interact with each other frequently. That kind of contact makes mutual trust a hard commodity to come by. 

Until we right many issues like poverty and inequality, the police and First Nations will interact with each other frequently.

The trust issue is more real to some than others, but it is real. I myself was involved in an incident off-duty before I retired and I was worried the newer officers responding would not recognize me and overreact. 

Police officers who have never been in our communities off-duty are nervous and mistrustful too, because they do not know what to expect from us. However, blind trust is just as dangerous: you cannot always expect every person will do the right thing for the right reasons, including the police. Trust is built over time and, in this case, will only improve when we recognize each other's struggles. 

Having said that, there will never be perfection in the relationship between police and First Nations. The police have a job to do and we all want to live in peace. 

From my experiences, there are more of our people who understand this and support the police than not. The problem is, they are not the vocal ones. 

Police officers know not all aboriginal people are criminals. Aboriginal people know not all police officers are racists. We are all just "people" when the labels are gone.

To be blunt, we have created industries from each other. There are people who have made a living calling every police contact "racism." There are police who have made their careers from First Nations social problems. To move forward is the challenge. 

We all know the past, acknowledge it, learn and move forward. There are some simple truths here. Police officers know not all aboriginal people are criminals. Aboriginal people know not all police officers are racists. We are all just "people" when the labels are gone. 

The real criminals and racists will expose themselves on their own accord. We have to choose now whether we build trust by recognizing them, or whether we destroy trust by seeing them everywhere they are not.

I was a policeman and I will always be a native man. The values of each man were not incompatible at the end of the day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ernie Louttit

Retired Saskatoon police officer

Ernie Louttit was born in northern Ontario, a member of the Missanabie Cree First Nation. In 1987, he joined the Saskatoon Police. Ernie was the third aboriginal police officer in the force's history. He spent nearly his entire career as a uniformed patrol officer and eventually was promoted to sergeant. He retired in 2013.

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