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Clyde Bellecourt (1936–2022), civil rights activist who co-founded AIM

by Linnea Crowther

Clyde Bellecourt was a Native American civil rights activist who co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM).

Fighting for Native American rights

Raised on an Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota, Bellecourt co-founded AIM in 1968, after serving prison time for burglary and robbery. It was there that he met co-founders Eddie Benton-Banai (1931–2020) and Dennis Banks (1937–2017) and talked to them about the challenges Native Americans faced, including police brutality. They agreed to start a program to help Native Americans living in cities, which grew into AIM. Bellecourt served as AIM’s national director and led protests including the Trail of Broken Treaties, a 1972 caravan from the west coast to Washington DC to demand Native American sovereignty. He was a leader of calls to eliminate Native American names of sports teams, focusing on the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Braves. Bellecourt co-founded the Legal Rights Center and the Heart of the Earth Survival School.  He was widely celebrated as an effective and influential advocate for Native American rights.

Notable quote

“Indian people had no legal rights centers, job training centers, community clinics, Native American studies programs or Indian child welfare statutes. There were no Indian casinos or Indian schools, no Indian preference housing. We were prohibited from practicing our spirituality. It was illegal to be in our country. The Movement changed all that.” —from Bellecourt’s 2016 memoir, “The Thunder Before the Storm”

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Tributes to Clyde Bellecourt

Full obituary: Star Tribune

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