MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) People across the country commemorate Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt, who died at the age of 85.
He co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to help advocate for tribal sovereignty and other civil rights. And the passion and work of his life extended far beyond his home state of Minnesota.
A ceremonial fire burns while people struggle with the loss of a legend. For Lisa Bellanger, Bellecourt was “uncle.” A man known worldwide but as a family to so many.
“I hear him called uncle all over the world,” Bellanger said. “I really would not be who I am without him.”
Bellanger is now AIM’s CEO.
“AIM created an awakening, you know, at the national level for our people,” she said.
Bellecourt’s early days were spent patrolling neighborhoods to try to stop police brutality. He eventually co-chaired the Police Community Relations Council. From education and job training to medical care and legal advice, Bellecourt traveled near and far to push for change and justice.
“It was never just a job for him, it was a lifestyle,” Bellanger said.
One of his most recent actions was to rid sports teams of racist mascots – something Lieutenant Peggy Flanagan highlighted in his statement to WCCO about him.
“The Indian country benefited from Clyde Bellecourt’s activism,” Flanagan said. “He cleared a path for so many of us.”
“Ultimately, it’s about his grandchildren, you know, and about making sure their children and their grandchildren want equity,” Bellanger said.
Bellecourt asked Bellanger to continue this message.
“Stay at the table. You have to keep working. You can not give up,” she said. “We can not just be a quiet voice. We need to be out there. “
Bellecourt also met with world leaders and spoke at the UN.
Bellanger says he died at the family home after a long battle with cancer.