Remembering a fearless leader

Create: 12/01/2015 - 19:20

Stanley James Louttit was born on April 29, 1950 on his family’s traditional homelands at Lake River, located about 100 miles north of Attawapiskat.
As a child, he was sent to the Bishop Horden Memorial School also known as the Horden Hall Residential School.
It was there that he met his friend of 57 years, Phillip Sutherland Jr.
“We got along right away because he liked the Habs too,” Sutherland said with a laugh. To Sutherland’s surprise, Louttit had been able to memorize the roster of the Montreal Canadiens just by listening to the games over the radio before he ever watched a game on TV.
Sutherland recalls Louttit was one to stand up to bullies, and protected and befriended the younger students that would come to the school.
The pair later attended the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie together up until their teen years. It was there, at the age of 16, that Louttit first gained a leadership role when he was elected as the student president after he fought authorities to have a student council formed.
Sutherland said he knew early only on that Louttit would become a leader later in life.
“He wasn’t afraid to speak out,” Sutherland recalled. “He always stood up for others. And if he saw something wasn’t going well – even like fishing or hunting – he would make a suggestion.
“He wasn’t one to stand by and just let things happen.”
For recreation, Louttit took up boxing.
Though Louttit rarely used his fists outside the ring, he once came to the defense of his best friend when they were competing in a hockey tournament.
An opposing player hit Sutherland, a goaltender, knocking him down. Louttit rushed over and laid a punch to the player, knocking him to the ice.
“I told him, ‘Hey, I’m alright,’” Sutherland said. Seeing that his friend was unharmed, Louttit helped the player up to his skates and said, “Don’t do that again….OK?”
Louttit would reference his boxing days even during his terms as grand chief, but always in jest.
To tease his boss, Mushkegowuk Deputy Grand Chief Leo Friday said he left a message for Louttit one night after the Habs lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime. In the message, he asked who won because his TV broke.
“In the morning, at the office, he came in and throw his fist at me and said, ‘OK who wants to get smart around here?’” Friday said, laughing at the memory.
By the 1980’s, Louttit was back in Moose Factory, working for the Indian and Northern Affairs of Canada.
It was around this time that Friday first met Louttit when Friday’s Elan ski-doo broke down on the winter road. His engine belt had broke, and Louttit was the first commuter to stop by.
“He looked for something in back seat of his ski-doo and there were a bunch of them (belts) in the back, maybe five or six,” Friday recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll give you my new one.’ He pulled
out a new belt, and said, ‘this will take you home.’”
Friday saw Louttit around plenty of times later after he started working for his First Nation, Kashechewan.
“I used to work in finance and INAC people came and asked what we would do with the money, and he (Louttit) was there, dealing with capital at that time,” Friday said.
Friday never thought Louttit would become a chief or grand chief, but not for a perceived lack of leadership skills. Friday knew Louttit was educated and likely getting paid well by the federal government.
“I never saw that he would be a leader because our pay is very low and because he’s probably getting more than the chiefs or grand chiefs,” Friday said.
Winisk Flood
In 1988, Louttit was the district manager of the INAC office in Moose Factory.
That spring, Winisk experienced a massive flood that washed away the community and endangered the lives of its residents.
Hearing this, Louttit ordered helicopters to assist the community. Louttit got in one himself and was on the scene to help move the residents to safer ground.
Luke Gull was one of those residents.
“(Stan) helped my parents and my three children,” he said. “He risked his life, getting off the helicopter, lost his footing and fell through the ice and got wet.”
Gull’s mother had lost her legs to diabetes and was bound to a stretcher.
“He helped my dad, with the help of other band members, (to place) my mom who was on stretcher (onto) a helicopter,” Gull said.
Louttit conducted head counts to see who was missing and assured the community members they would go try to find them.
“Stan did a great help,” Gull said. “If there were no helicopters that day, I don’t know what would happen to us.”
While some residents chose to stay in area, Louttit decided the rest should be evacuated.
“It was best decided to evacuate the people to Attawapiskat,” Gull said. “Stan always came up with plans.”
For his actions in that event, Louttit received the Governor General Medal for Bravery.
Road to Grand Chief
Following his tenure with INAC, Louttit worked at the Moose Factory General Hospital and was Chairperson of Mushkegowuk Council from 1992 to 1993. From 1994 to 1999, he was elected as Deputy Grand Chief with Nishnawbe Aski Nation. He then worked as CEO for Moose Cree First Nation.
In 2004, Louttit decided to run for grand chief of Mushkegowuk Council. That election was the first time community members voted for their grand chief rather than Mushkegowuk’s community chiefs.
Louttit won.
“I am honoured and humbled by the number of votes I received,” Louttit said in a statement at the time. “And (I) will work diligently in my capacity as grand chief for the Mushkegowuk people.”
Louttit would later be re-elected in 2007 and again in 2011.
Where Louttit once fought opponents with his fists in the ring – and at least once in defending his brethren on the ice – he now used words and ideas to fight those in INAC offices, Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill.
To advocate and fight for his people, Louttit drew on his prior experience, including his time with INAC.
“He was very knowledgable with the government and how they deal with people,” Friday said. “And also he knew the system of politics.”
Louttit knew how to deal with politicians and bureaucrats during his three terms.
“In a few places, he raised his voice a little when he wanted to make (the government) understand what he wanted,” Friday said. “But he had facts. That’s the good thing he had, is that he had facts. To prove to the government of what he was saying.”
Louttit knew the importance of having paperwork and things on record.
“He always had a letter saying what was discussed and (that) we need to move on with the commitment,” Friday said.
In the following years, he would advocate and help draw attention to the problems facing the Mushkegowuk communities.
See the next issue of Wawatay News for Part Two of Stan’s story