Originally published Jan. 11, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — People across the country are remembering Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt, who has died at the age of 85.

He co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to help advocate for tribal sovereignty and other Civil Rights. And his life’s passion and work extended well beyond his home state of Minnesota.

A ceremonial fire burns as people grapple with the loss of a legend. To Lisa Bellanger, Bellecourt was “uncle.” A man known worldwide, but like family to so many.

“I hear him called uncle all over the world,” Bellanger said. “I really wouldn’t be who I am without him.”

Bellanger is now AIM’s executive director.

“AIM created an awakening, you know, on a national level of our people,” she said.

Bellecourt’s early days were spent patrolling neighborhoods trying to stop police brutality. He eventually co-chaired the Police Community Relations Council. From education and job training, to medical care and legal advice, Bellecourt travelled near and far pushing for change and equity.

Clyde Bellecourt (credit: CBS)

“It was never just a job for him, it was a way of life,” Bellanger said.

One of his latest pushes was to rid sports teams of racist mascots — something Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan highlighted in her statement to WCCO about him.

“Indian Country benefited from Clyde Bellecourt’s activism,” Flanagan said. “He cleared a path for so many of us.”

“At the end of the day, it’s about his grandkids, you know, and ensuring that their kids and their grandkids will have equity,” Bellanger said.

Bellecourt told Bellanger to carry on this message.

“’Stay at the table. You gotta keep working. You can’t give up,’” she said. “We can’t just be a silent voice. We have to be out there.”

Bellecourt also met with world leaders and spoke at the United Nations.

Bellanger says he died at home with family after a long cancer battle.

Erin Hassanzadeh