Opinion. It was a blustery Monday in North Dakota throughout the first week of December in 2016. Sturdy Nice Plains winds pushed my physique down the hill from the freeway again into the Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock. Round midday, after masking a march with a whole lot of veterans, phrase unfold by the camp that highways had been closed and everybody there needed to keep till the blizzard ended. Frustration came to visit me as a result of there was no web and I couldn’t submit tales to Native Information On-line. I assumed the remainder of the day could be wasted.
My frustration was short-lived after I noticed Clyde Bellecourt (White Earth Ojibwe), one of many cofounders of the American Indian Motion (AIM), sitting within the Michigan tent. I rapidly bought some sizzling soup for lunch and sat down subsequent to Bellecourt. I requested if I might interview him, and he instantly agreed. Downside solved. Even with no web, I might work as a result of I knew Bellecourt was all the time stuffed with perception and knowledge.
Throughout our dialog, he advised me—as Dennis Banks, one other AIM cofounder had advised me quite a few instances beforehand—he was frightened that there have been no leaders to choose up the combat after the unique AIM leaders would go away.
“My fears are gone since I arrived right here at Standing Rock,” mentioned Bellecourt, who led the combat together with Banks and different AIM leaders at Wounded Knee in 1973. “These teams of younger individuals confirmed me that they’re able to take up the combat for our individuals.”
Bellecourt recounted to me that there have been by no means greater than 200 individuals at Wounded Knee throughout the 1973 occupation after I requested him to check Wounded Knee to Standing Rock.
“With 1000’s right here, that is a lot larger. Most individuals don’t notice that,” Bellecourt mentioned. “Sure, there have been individuals who got here and went at Wounded Knee, bringing provides at night time, however there have been by no means greater than 200 there at any level. That is a lot larger.”
Bellecourt was appropriate. Wounded Knee lasted 71 days. The Standing Rock resistance to the Dakota Entry pipeline started in April 2016 and lasted till late February 2017.
Bellecourt then advised me about his autobiography, The Thunder Earlier than the Storm. He advised me he would get me a duplicate. A person of his phrase, he had a mutual good friend ship a signed copy to me about two months later.
I first met Bellecourt in 1996 when he got here to Grand Rapids at my invitation to be the keynote speaker at a symposium on American Indian youth. Previous to the symposium, he despatched some flyers for handouts. A few of the data on the flyer mentioned youth in households that sat all the way down to eat collectively for dinner had much less juvenile delinquency than households that didn’t eat collectively. In essence, the message was kids get their vanity when households eat collectively and bond. It was a lesson that I applied in my circle of relatives.
On the symposium I found Bellecourt was fairly the orator. He lived as much as his Anishinaabe Ojibwe title, Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun, which implies “Thunder Earlier than the Storm.”
He spoke with thunder, telling a blended crowd: “You wish to speak about weapons of mass destruction. Effectively, it occurred when the USDA started dropping off commodity meals to Indian reservations. Lard, flour and canned meat crammed with preservatives that ended up giving us diabetes. Now, these are weapons of mass destruction!”
I realized a complete lot about AIM historical past throughout his keep in Grand Rapids. I keep in mind him telling me about how within the early days of AIM, the founders needed to be taught the Indian methods. He defined as a result of so many Native People had been merchandise of cities, they’d not been taught the Indian methods.
Through the years, Bellecourt would graciously focus on any Native American problem with me after I known as for a remark for a Native Information On-line story.
In the summertime of 2015, I used to be in his dwelling metropolis of Minneapolis for a gathering. After my assembly, I known as him from a espresso home to see if he had time to satisfy. He dropped what he was doing and arrived about 10 minutes later. He gave me a tour of Native organizations he helped set up and took me to the American Indian Motion Interpretive Middle that accommodates partitions of pictures of AIM historical past, many who included him.
On that go to it was apparent to me, Bellecourt was happy with his work at Wounded Knee, however simply as importantly he was happy with his work after 1973, equivalent to bringing housing for Native People to the Twin Cities, jobs and academic packages. He was proud that he was one of many early leaders who labored to eliminate Indian mascots.
Bellecourt, together with Dennis Banks and different AIM leaders, left a mark on up to date Indian Nation combating in opposition to social injustices.
After he handed away on Tuesday, I started to mirror on his life and now his loss of life.
There may be one gesture I’ll always remember. After leaving Standing Rock for our journey again to Michigan, one of many males who was in our automobile introduced Clyde gave him some cash so we might have dinner courtesy of him.
We stopped at a restaurant in Fargo, N.D. and ate a pleasant sizzling meal courtesy of Clyde Bellecourt. He all the time did issues the Indian means.
He will probably be buried on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota with a conventional ceremony within the Indian means.
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