Clyde Bellecourt, founder of the American Indian Movement, dies at 85


Clyde attended a Roman Catholic missionary school run by Benedictine nuns on the reservation until he was a teenager. The family later moved to Minneapolis, where he struggled academically, dropped out of high school, failed to find a job, and was imprisoned for burglary and theft.

In prison, he met Mr. Banks and Eddie Benton-Banai, who ran a cultural program for other Native American inmates. After their release in mid-1968, they founded the American Indian Movement with George Mitchell, Charles Deegan and others to help urban Indians deal with discrimination, unemployment, poverty and inadequate housing. Mr. Bellecourt’s older brother, Vernon, was also active in the movement.

Mr. Bellecourt, who later worked for a utility company, was chosen as the movement’s first president and helped launch the so-called Trail of Broken Treaties, a long walk from the West Coast to Washington, in 1972.

Besides his wife, whose Japanese-American father was buried during World War II, Mr. Bellecourt is survived by four children, Susan, Tonya, Little Crow and Little Wolf; and a number of grandchildren.

He pleaded guilty following his 1985 arrest in a drug possession case. He later said that the arrest and the two years he spent in prison helped him break his addiction.

In 2016 he published an autobiography, “Thunder Before the Storm”, written with thJournalist Jon Lurie, In it, he wrote that before he could help heal others as the leader of AIM in the late 1960s, he had to make peace with his creator and heal himself during a prayer ceremony in the sweat lodge, which ultimately transformed the movement. from violent confrontation to constructive engagement.

“I understood that the only way to be successful in the Movement was to place healing and spirituality at the center of everything we did,” Mr. Bellecourt wrote. “The spirits of the ceremony told us that we must continue our journey, that we must bring back the spirit of the Indian people.”


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