MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Clyde Bellecour, leader of the Native American civil rights struggle and founder of the American Indian Movement, has died. He was 85.
Bellecourt died Tuesday morning of cancer at his Minneapolis home, his wife Peggy Bellecourt told the Star Tribune. Lisa Bellanger, the current co-director of AIM, also confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
“Clyde was a really good person and influenced a lot of people,” said Winona LaDuke, American Indian activist and executive director of Honor the Earth, an environmental awareness raising organization for indigenous peoples. “He had a big impact on my life.”
Bellecour co-founded the 1968 American Indian Movement, which began as a local organization in Minneapolis to combat police brutality and discrimination against Native Americans.
One of the group’s early actions was to organize a patrol to track allegations of harassment and police brutality against Native Americans who settled in Minneapolis, where AIM is based. The participants had cameras, asked the police for badge numbers, and monitored the movement of radio scanners for any mention of anyone they might recognize as indigenous to make sure their rights were not being violated.
The group quickly became a national force. In the 1970s, he spearheaded a series of major national protests, including a 1972 march to Washington, DC, titled “Trail of Broken Treaties.”
READ MORE: Why more and more people are celebrating Indigenous peoples Day
At times, the tactics of the American Indian Movement were militant, leading to a split in the group. In one of their most famous actions, the group captured Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1973 in protest against the US government and tribes. The 71-day occupation turned violent, with two people killed in the shootout.
The group identified incidents of cultural appropriation, provided vocational training, sought to improve housing and education for indigenous peoples, provided legal assistance, highlighted environmental injustice, and questioned government policies that were considered anti-indigenous.
Bellecour was born and raised on the White Land Indian Reservation. His Ojibwe name is Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun, which means “Thunder before the storm.” According to Bellanger, he was the sole surviving founder of the AIM movement.
Bellecour was among those who protested against the 1992 Super Bowl in Minneapolis when the Washington football team beat the Buffalo Bills. The Washington team ditched their old name in 2020 after decades of criticism that was offensive to Native Americans and pressure from sponsors amid national retribution for the race in the United States. Bellecour has long called for the team’s name to be changed.
Bellanger said condolences come from all over the world.
“He was famous all over the world,” she said.