Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, dies of cancer at 85
Clyde Bellecourt, one of the most significant Native American leaders in the struggle for civil rights, died in Minneapolis on Tuesday night, his son Wolf confirmed to Minnesota Public Radio.
Bellecourt was 85 and had been battling prostate cancer.
"He was an awesome dad. I have a 10-year-old daughter," Wolf Bellecourt said to MPR. "He was really a good grandfather to her, and he'd give her the whole world if he could."
"He loved the Native people," his wife, Peggy Bellecourt, told the Star Tribune. "He loved being out there, trying to help improve conditions."
Bellecourt, who was born and grew up on the White Earth Indian Reservation, co-founded the American Indian Movement in 1968. It began as a local organization in Minneapolis and over decades has expanded to advocate for Native civil rights across the United States and Canada and around the world. AIM says that today, it represents over 375 million Indigenous people around the world.
"At the heart, AIM is deeply rooted in spirituality, and a belief in the connectedness of all indigenous peoples," Bellecourt wrote in a letter for the organization.
One of AIM's original motives was to help combat and monitor police violence toward Native people. Over decades, the group has expanded to advocate for fair housing and education for Native communities, provide legal aid and protested against cultural appropriation. Bellecourt and others protested the 1992 Super Bowl, for example, calling out the now-former name of the Washington Football Team, which was a racist slur against Native Americans.
In 1978, Bellecourt addressed demonstrators in Washington, D.C., at the end of an event called the Longest Walk. The journey lasted from February to July that year, as Native Americans trekked across the country to protest legislation in Congress.
"We want you to know that we are attempting to call attention to and to gain your support in turning back the anti-Indian attitude, the anti-Indian legislation, the John Wayne frontier mentality that exists among the media today and the reporting," Bellecourt said in his remarks in D.C.
"We are asking you to help us stop these genocidal practices that are taking place against my people. We come here to D.C to educate the world that our culture is very much alive... Our religion and our way of life has survived all this time. We want you to know our strength is back," he said.
His death is mourned by generations of Native Americans.
"Today, we lost a civil rights leader who fought for more than a half century on behalf of Indigenous people in Minnesota and around the world. Indian Country benefited from Clyde Bellecourt's activism - he cleared a path for so many of us," Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan tweeted.
"Journey well, Neegawnwaywidung," she said, referencing Bellecourt's Ojibwe name, which translates to thunder before the storm.
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