State Watch

Clyde Bellecourt, major Native American leader, dies at 85

Associated Press/Jim Mone

Clyde Bellecourt, a co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and a prominent civil rights leader, has died at the age of 85.

Wolf Bellecourt confirmed the death of his father, who struggled with prostate cancer, to Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday.

Bellecourt’s death was mourned by many in the Native American community, including Lisa Bellanger, the current leader of AIM, who told CBS Minnesota she “really wouldn’t be who I am now without him.”

“AIM created an awakening, you know, on a national level of our people,” she added.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D) also paid tribute to the longtime Native American leader.

“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,” she tweeted.

The news comes a little more than a year after the death of another founder of the American Indian Movement, Eddie Benton-Banai. AIM was formed in Minnesota in 1968 and grew into a national movement that went on to challenge governmental policy and the treatment of Native Americans in the U.S.

Bellecourt was a fierce advocate for equality and justice, leading AIM as it protested police brutality and a lack of opportunities for Indigenous people. He led the group through 1972’s Trail of Broken Treaties march in Washington, D.C., and the 1992 protest of the Super Bowl over the Washington Football Team’s former name, which he said was a racist slur against Native Americans.

But Bellecourt also oversaw AIM during some of its most tumultuous times, including when the group broke apart over how to best challenge the government. The more radical side launched the 1973 protest at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which turned violent and led to the deaths of two people.

Bellecourt was born in 1936 on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota, the seventh oldest of 12 children in a family belonging to the tribe of Ojibwe, one of the largest Native American tribal organizations in the nation.

In 2016, Bellecourt reflected on the legacy of his movement. Native Americans had “been beaten down so far we didn’t think nothing could change,” he said, but “we proved to America we weren’t enemies.”

Tags American Indian Movement Clyde Bellecourt Minnesota

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