Clyde Bellecourt

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Clyde Bellecourt
Born (1936-05-08) May 8, 1936 (age 85)
OccupationCivil rights organizer
Known forCo-founding the American Indian Movement
RelativesVernon Bellecourt (brother)

Clyde Howard Bellecourt (born May 8, 1936) is a White Earth Ojibwe civil rights organizer noted for co-founding the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 with Dennis Banks, and George Mitchell. His older brother, the late Vernon Bellecourt, was also active. Clyde was the seventh of 12 children born to his parents (Charles and Angeline) on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.[1]

His Ojibwe name is Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun which means "Thunder Before the Storm."

Early life[edit]

Bellecourt was born in the largest and poorest of northern Minnesota's Ojibwe communities. In his youth, Clyde fought against the forces of authority, because he did not think they respected his family and other Indians. As a child, he could hear his parents speaking in low tones late at night in a language he did not understand. When he asked what they were saying, he was told to think about his education and do as well as he could. The years in school were not pleasant. As a boy, he attended a reservation mission school run strictly by Benedictine nuns.

After the Bellecourt family moved to Minneapolis Twin Cities, the boy Clyde continued to act up in school, receiving detentions. He ultimately incurred more serious charges, resulting in a conviction and sentence to the adult correctional facility at St. Cloud. Clyde was arrested for a succession of offenses—including burglary and robbery. On his 25th birthday, he was transferred to Stillwater Prison in Stillwater, where he served out the remainder of his sentence.[2] It was at Stillwater that Bellecourt met other Native Americans, many of them Ojibwe, who would later form the key initial leadership of AIM. Among those were Dennis Banks and Eddie Benton-Banai, the latter of whom persuaded Bellecourt to end a hunger strike he'd begun there.[3]


Bellecourt helped found AIM in July 1968 with Banks and George Mitchell of the Leech Lake Reservation during a meeting[4][5] in Minneapolis. The meeting was held with the intention of raising awareness to issues American Indians faced in the Twins Cities and to discuss ideas how to solve those problems. Some of the issues discussed included police harassment, discrimination by employers, discrimination in school, poor housing, and unemployment.[6] Bellecourt was elected the group's first chairman, Dennis Banks field director, and Charles Deegan vice chairman. They began to monitor arrests of American Indians made by the local police department to ensure their civil rights and treatment with dignity and respect.[7]

In 1971, Bellecourt visited the Chicago Indian Village (CIV), an inter-tribal group protesting to raise awareness of and solutions for poor housing conditions for Native Americans in Chicago. The CIV had occupied the former site of a battery of Nike anti-aircraft missiles at Belmont Harbor in Chicago.[8]

In August 1972, Rosebud Reservation tribal chairman Robert Burnette brought forth the idea of a peaceful march on Washington, D.C., which became known as the Trail of Broken Treaties, in order to demand new legislation to remove the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as an agency of the Department of the Interior. The group involved supported establishing a Federal Indian Commission, reporting directly to the president, in order to ensure that Indian interests were considered in all aspects. Organizers originally planned a peaceful tour of Washington landmarks and meeting with leading government officials to present their "20 points," as a list of their grievances. The activists ended up storming and occupying the BIA Headquarters before beginning negotiations for their 20 points. They called for ending the corruption and mismanagement of the BIA. Bellecourt, along with other AIM leaders, led the negotiations with the federal government [9][10][11]

In 1973 AIM activists were invited to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota by its local civil rights organization to aid in securing better treatment from law enforcement in the border towns, which had been slow to prosecute attacks against Lakota. Protesting discrimination against the Lakota in border towns and the failed impeachment of the elected tribal chairman, Richard Wilson, AIM led an occupation of the Town of Wounded Knee, within the reservation. They were also protesting the poor living conditions on that reservation. FBI agents and U.S. Marshals soon surrounded the town. Bellecourt became a negotiator. Eventually, he, Russell Means, and Carter Camp held a meeting with a representative for the US President. They negotiated an audit of Wilson's operation of tribal finances and an investigation of abuses by his private militia, the Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs).

After leaving Pine Ridge, Bellecourt and Means were arrested in Pierre, South Dakota, with a bond set at $25,000. They were served a restraining order against approaching closer than five miles to the town of Wounded Knee. After being released on bond, Bellecourt went on a fundraising tour across the United States, trying to raise money for the activists still occupying Wounded Knee.

After the occupation of Wounded Knee ended, Bellecourt hosted seminars and other public appearances. He claimed that, "the seminar represents the beginning of an educational effort by AIM and a turning point for the organization, which hopes to avoid violent confrontations in the future." Throughout the rest of his speaking tour about Wounded Knee and the BIA takeover, Bellecourt would maintain that Christianity, the Office of Education, and the Federal Government were enemies to Indians. He defended AIM actions at the BIA and Wounded Knee, saying, "We are the landlords of the country, it is the end of the month, the rent is due, and AIM is going to collect."[citation needed]

1985 Conviction[edit]

In January 1986, Bellecourt met with an undercover agent in a laundry room at Little Earth of United Tribes, a south Minneapolis housing development, and sold her LSD. Bellecourt was arrested, along with a group of Indian and non-Indian associates, in possession of an estimated $125,000 worth (5000 "hits") of LSD and other "hard" drugs (cocaine). Charged on eight counts of being a major drug distributor, each compounded by a conspiracy charge, Bellecourt accepted a plea bargain arrangement and confessed, entering a guilty plea to lesser felonies shortly thereafter. Federal District Judge Paul Magnuson sentenced him to only five years imprisonment (of which he served less than two).[2][12][13]

Current involvement[edit]

Bellecourt lives in South Minneapolis.[14] He continues to direct national and international AIM activities, is a coordinator of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, and leads Heart of the Earth, Inc., an Interpretive Center located behind AIM's 40-year school site in Minneapolis.[15]

Bellecourt founded the Heart of the Earth Survival School in 1972, which was approved for 501(c)(3) status in 1974. The passage of the American Indian Education Act provided possible yearly funding on a competitive basis, which Heart of the Earth was successful in winning for 24 years. It created a pre-school to grade 12 school. In the 1980s, it added adult learning and prison programs. Heart of the Earth has coordinated a national law education program.

When it developed into an independent charter school in 1999, Heart of the Earth became the property owner. It continued to offer a wide variety of independent cultural programs, awarded scholarships to Indian students, and developed indigenous language research. The charter was revoked in 2008. The school ceased to exist after serious financial irregularities were discovered, including embezzlement.[16] In all, over 10,000 students attended the school in its 40-year history.

Other organizations founded in part by Bellecourt include the Elaine M. Stately Peacemaker Center for Indian youth; the AIM Patrol, which provides security for the Minneapolis Indian community; the Legal Rights Center; MIGIZI Communications, Inc.; the Native American Community Clinic; Women of Nations Eagle Nest Shelter; and Board of American Indian OIC (Opportunities Industrialization Center), a job program to help Native Americans get full-time jobs.[17]


  1. ^ Furst, Randy. "As his body gives out, AIM co-founder Clyde Bellecourt keeps his eye on the fight". StarTribune (19 February 2019). Tribune Media Company LLC. Retrieved 18 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2014-08-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ D'Arcus, Bruce (May 2010). "The Urban Geography of Red Power: The American Indian Movement in MinneapolisSaint Paul, 1968-70". Urban Studies. 47 (6): 1241–1255.
  4. ^ Davis, Davis (2013). Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 3.
  5. ^ "Timeline". American Indian Movement. Retrieved Jun 11, 2020.
  6. ^ Davis, Julie (2013). Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-8166-7429-9.
  7. ^ Davis, Julie (2013). Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8166-7429-9.
  8. ^ LaGrand, James B. (2002). Indian Metropolis: Native Americans in Chicago 1945-75. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 241. ISBN 9780252072963.
  9. ^ "Framing Red Power". Retrieved Jun 11, 2020.
  10. ^ "Trail of Broken Treaties 20-Point Position Paper - An Indian Manifesto". Retrieved Jun 11, 2020.
  11. ^ Brown, Dee (Nov 24, 1974). "Behind the Trail Of Broken Treaties An Indian Declaration of Independence. By Vine Deloria Jr. 263 pp. New York: Delacorte Press. $8.95". Retrieved Jun 11, 2020 – via
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2014-08-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-10-12. Retrieved 2014-08-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Olson, Rochelle (December 25, 2012). "Minneapolis Indian activist arrested at Crystal Court on Christmas Eve". Star Tribune.
  15. ^ National Geographic (2010). Indian Nations of North America. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.
  16. ^ Ross, Jenna (2009-06-01). "Minneapolis charter school director allegedly embezzled $1.38 million". Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2009-06-14. Retrieved 2009-12-07.
  17. ^ *Mosedale, Mike (February 16, 2000). "Bury My Heart", Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine City Pages.

Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Paul C., and Robert A. Warrior. Like A Hurricane. New York: The New Press, 1996. 128-32, 242-43, 256.
  • "Trail of Broken Treaties" Caravan Moves on Washington D.C.," Akwesasne Notes 4.6 (1972): 1-6.
  • Julie Davis, Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2013)

External links[edit]