AIM leader Vernon Bellecourt dies in Minneapolis
BY STEVE KARNOWSKI
Article Last Updated: 10/14/2007 09:24:28 AM CDT
Vernon Bellecourt, a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, died Saturday. He was 75.
Bellecourt died at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis of complications of pneumonia, said his brother, Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the activist group.
Clyde Bellecourt said his brother had been in Venezuela about four weeks ago to meet with President Hugo Chavez to discuss Chavez's program for providing heating assistance to American Indian tribes. Vernon Bellecourt fell ill around the time of his return, his condition continued to deteriorate, and he was put on a respirator.
Vernon Bellecourt - whose Objibwe name WaBun-Inini means Man of Dawn - was a member of Minnesota's White Earth band and was an international spokesman for the AIM Grand Governing Council based in Minneapolis. Clyde Bellecourt helped found AIM as a militant group in 1968, and Vernon Bellecourt soon became involved as well, including in its 1973 occupation of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
In recent years, Bellecourt was active in the fight against American Indian nicknames for sports teams as president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media. He was arrested in Cleveland during the 1997 World Series and again in 1998 during protests against the Cleveland Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo.
"He was willing to put his butt on the line to draw attention to racism in sports," his brother said.
Bellecourt was involved as a negotiator in AIM's 1972 occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington as part of the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan. He was present only briefly during the 71-day Wounded Knee standoff with federal agents, Clyde Bellecourt said. He stayed mostly on the outside to serve as a spokesman and fundraiser.
After Wounded Knee, Vernon Bellecourt became a leader of AIM's work abroad, meeting with presidents such as Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, his brother said. He added that they plan to list them as honorary pallbearers.
Vernon Bellecourt was active in the campaign to free AIM activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Wakes are scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at All Nations Church in Minneapolis and Tuesday night at the Circle of Life School in White Earth in northwestern Minnesota. The funeral will be Wednesday.
It's sad that, once again, the online commenters have nothing nice to say about the man. A sample: "the man did nothing for the American Indians. Peltier was a murderer as the judicial system ruled and Belacourt running around with the likes of Ortega, Gadhafi, Arafat, and Chavez is utterly immoral. Good riddance." Tiny minds think alike.