Yvonne Swan in Native Currents. Discussion »
Clyde Bellecourt in the Northwest
SPOKANE, WASHINGTON - Co-founder of the American Indian Movement Clyde Bellecourt, a tribal citizen of the White Earth Ojibwe Tribe of Minnesota, is on a speaking tour of the Pacific Northwest. During his tour, he has been busy retracing to a new generation the history of the American Indian Movement to various groups.
Last Thursday, Bellecourt spoke to several classes at North Idaho College. Afterward about 60 people went up on stage to thank him and to ask questions about how they can become more involved. Several of the students committed themselves to study law to help the American Indian cause.
On Friday, he spoke at the University High School where he met an equally enthusiastic group.
Then on Saturday morning, February 4, Bellecourt conducted a round table discussion at the All Saints Lutheran Church where about 50 American Indian people participated. He passed his eagle feather around and each speaker brought up issues and concerns that they are aware of in their respective communities. Among them were representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Shoshone/Bannock from southern Idaho, Chief Joseph Nez Perce, Lakota Sioux from Standing Rock, Dine' (Navajo), Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and more.
Issues discussed were racism, police brutality, historical trauma, and countless health problems. Professional representatives included a mental health counselor, prosecutor, sociologist, social services counselor, as well as Eastern Washington University students.
After lunch, Bellecourt showed two short videos showing the history of the American Indian Movement and a tour of a photo gallery of same.
During the afternoon, Bellecourt spoke to a group of about 70 people inside the actual church and later opened it up for questions. He introduced himself telling about the traditional way of life he was brought up in and about how his mother was persecuted when in boarding school. He spoke of his time in prison where he met Eddie Benton Banai, while both were in solitary confinement. They shared horror stories of racist torment in each other's communities and later decided to organize to change things.
Clyde Bellecourt in 1975
He described how the American Indian Movement was founded in 1968. He said one of the first effective actions was to organize AIM patrols to monitor police brutality. Later in1969 they helped found the Indian Health Board which was the first Indian urban-based health care provider in the nation.
Bellecourt talked about the schools that AIM established in St. Paul and Minneapolis. In St. Paul the school was called the Red School House and in Minneapolis it was called the Heart of the Earth Survival School. Indian students were being pushed out of local schools, but once entering the survival schools they noticeably excelled.
In 1970, Bellecourt's brother, the late Vernon Bellecourt recruited photographer, Dick Bancroft and he has not stopped filming since. All of Bancroft's collection is being prepared to go into the proposed AIM Interpretive Center at Minneapolis that is under development. This is one of the most interesting stories that Bellecourt told. He recounted how the land and building were donated and how a $5 million grant has been received.
Bellecourt recounted other AIM actions, such as the march on Washington DC known as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters.
Then he talked about the takeover of Wounded Knee 1973 which was a response to corruption on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the subsequent unresolved deaths of over 60 people on the reservation.
After the 71 day takeover, he said several American Indians were indicted. And referring to the "AIM trials" at Minnesota in 1974, he said after nine months the judge dismissed the charges saying, " the rivers of justice have been muddied in my courtroom."
That same year AIM founded a diplomatic arm called the International Indian Treaty Council to take all issues to the world through the United Nations based on the treaty violations. Through the Treaty Council, AIM was effective in becoming the first non-governmental organization recognized by the United Nations. AIM was also involved in developing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He said it took years, but in late 2009, the United States was the last country to sign onto this Declaration, which affects millions of people around the world.
He spoke about other positive moves made by AIM and other great accomplishments one that stands out is how AIM stopped anti-Indian legislation during its 1978 Longest Walk from California to Washington DC.
After several people left the All Saints Lutheran Church, Bellecourt helped about twenty of us close the day with a circle of prayer in solidarity with Leonard Peltier, an American Indian political prisoner. Bellecourt brought his own sacred pipe especially for this purpose. I was asked to say some words about Leonard as Bellecourt filled his pipe. It was such a very special time that I hardly remember all I said, but by the time the pipe was ready to be lit, everyone was of one mind asking the Creator for Leonard's freedom. Afterward people were asked to share a song if they wanted and about four of us did that.
Today he will be at the Spokane Tribal College at Wellpinit, Washington for another round table discussion.
Yvonne Swan, Colville, is a long time American Indian Movement activist who lives on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state.
posted February 7, 2012 7:30 am est
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