Once Stan Louttit was elected as grand chief of Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, he dove right into his work.
“From the get-go, we were neck-deep in the issues,” recalled Charlie Angus, who was elected as MP of the Timmins-James Bay riding that year in 2004. “In the fight for clean water in Kashechewan, the issue of schooling in Attawapiskat, housing in Fort Albany, Stan was always there.”
Louttit was a leader that ensured he had direction from the chiefs he represented, according to Mushkegowuk Deputy Grand Chief Leo Friday.
“He’s the kind of person to listen to chief and delegates to see what they want in their communities. And how they wanted to handle that,” Friday said. “I never find he went ahead and tried to do his own thing. He always listened to his fellow chiefs.”
Once the direction was clear, Friday said he would “really go after some of the things for what the chiefs want. He would tackle the way they want to pursue them.”
And when he did, Louttit was a “force,” said Angus.
“Stan was diplomatic but he was forceful. When something was wrong, he called it out,” Angus recalled. “You didn’t dangle with Stan when he was on a mission. He was going to be on the right side of that issue.”
Louttit was instrumental in advocating and bringing awareness to problems in the Mushkegowuk communities, such as the E. Coli situation in Kashechewan and the death of two community members in its NAPS detachment, Shannen’s Dream, the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. Anything that needed addressing, Louttit was there.
Louttit understood the need to speak to media in order to draw attention to the problem.
“Although we had called the media to come into the community…he just kept talking away into the camera,” said Friday, who was the Kashechewan chief at the time of its water crisis. “He was very good at it.”
Friday said Louttit had a natural charisma when it came to speaking on camera, and “he was very intellingent and smart.”
“And he was on every television (network) to tell the people what was going on,” Friday said.
It was the way he spoke that made people listen, Angus said.
“When he spoke, he spoke with authority and people listened,” he said. “He had a reputation across the country and everyone knew him.”
And while Louttit could be forceful, he had a lighter side as well. Angus said whenever they were ready to attend a big meeting in Ottawa, Louttit would pick up a guitar and “make up a funny song.”
“He’d put all the people in the room into the song and he’d get us all laughing and singing along,” Angus said. “So he had that real human touch as well as sense of leadership.”
One issue that was important to Louttit was the Shannen’s Dream campaign. Angus said Louttit never missed a conference call and that the youth looked up to Louttit as a “real figure of guidance.”
In what is now a famous story, Shannen Koostachin and other Grade 8 students were told by then Indian Affairs minister Chuck Strahl that the construction of a school for Attawapiskat was not a priority for the government.
What was not told was Louttit’s role in helping to influence Koostachin’s role as a young leader.
After Koostachin heard what Strahl said, she stormed out of the meeting.
“Stan stepped up, left the room and he went and got Shannen and said, ‘it doesn’t end like this. You’re a leader, you have to go in and we have to face them down,”’ Angus recalled.
Koostachin pulled herself together, went back to the meeting and told Strahl she and the children would not give up – they would continue the fight.
Angus said he is always struck by that story, how not only did Louttit make sure Koostachin was OK, but to encourage her as a leader.
“That was one of the things I think that made that campaign so successful,” Angus said of Louttit’s influence on the youth. “The nurturing of these young leaders and telling them they can make a difference and they can be heard.”
Perhaps Louttit’s greatest legacy is his role in educating others and reminding politicians of the meaning of Treaty 9.
Louttit’s grandfather, Andrew Wesley, signed the treaty in Fort Albany back in 1905.
Learning about the treaty and its signing became sort of an obsession for Louttit. Friday recalled Louttit would “always” carry around the book, Treaty No. 9, written by university professor John Long, which chronicles the signing of the treaty.
Louttit developed a presentation on the meaning and signing of the treaty, which he called
“The Real Agreement as Orally Agreed to.” The presentation is based on oral history, extensive research and consultations.
He has given the presentation across the country in hopes of educating Canadians and First Nations alike about the agreement as understood by the Elders.
There was always one part of the presentation where Louttit would get worked up, recalled Jonathan Solomon, former Kashechewan chief and good friend of Louttit.
One of the treaty commissioners sent to obtain signatures was Duncan Campbell Scott. He would go on to become the Indian Affairs minister and infamously said he wanted to “get rid of the Indian problem.”
“Whenever he got to that part, he would kick a chair, slam his hand on a table – anything, no matter who he was giving presentation to,” Solomon said with a laugh.
The diaries of the treaty commissioners were discovered and brought to the attention of Louttit in 2010. Some of the entries – particularly those of Ontario commissioner Daniel G. MacMartin – indicated oral promises were made that were not written in the treaty.
Last summer, Mushkegowuk launched a lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments, as well as a two resource companies encroaching on a Taykwa Tagamou member’s trapline, based on the diaries.
When giving his treaty presentation at Mushkegowuk’s treaty conference last August, Louttit referenced a quote made by an Elder who said someone had written down what was said during treaty discussions.
“There was someone there that did the writing. So this is what is lost.”
The Elder, James Wesley of Kashechewan, said it says in the Bible that, “the things that were told darkness will be also told in light…it will be told yet one day.”
As Louttit read the quote, he slammed his hand on a table.
“That day is here now!” he exclaimed. “That day is here because look at this – here are the diaries.”
Louttit later said if Mushkegowuk wins the lawsuit, it would mean the governments and resource companies would require the consent of the communities before they could develop.
Louttit’s passion for the treaty will be preserved in an upcoming documentary.
For the past few years, acclaimed Aboriginal filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin has been filming the documentary about Treaty 9 and prominently features Louttit. She said the film is complete and will be released in September.
And while his legacy will live on, Louttit’s leadership will be missed by those in the Mushkegowuk communities.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do without him,” Friday said. “We just feel a big loss.”
Stan Wesley, Louttit’s nephew, said his uncle was an ordinary man who did an extraordinary thing.
“What did he do that was extraordinary?” Wesley asked those in attendance at Louttit’s funeral. “He loved you all.”
“Now let us love him.”
National Indigenous Peoples Day which takes place on June 21 and the wider National Indigenous History Month in June is a significant time for Indigenous...