AIM leader and veteran activist dies at age 75
He fell ill after a trip to Venezuela four weeks ago, said his brother Clyde, and had been on a respirator until Saturday.
By Steve Karnowski, Associated Press
Last update: October 14, 2007 – 12:04 AM
Vernon Bellecourt, a longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, died Saturday. He was 75.
Bellecourt died at Abbott Northwestern Hospital of complications of pneumonia, said his brother, Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the 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. He fell ill around the time of his return.
His condition continued to deteriorate, and he was put on a respirator a week ago. He died within a minute after being disconnected Saturday, his brother said
Vernon Bellecourt -- whose Ojibwe 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. The first time, the charges were dropped. He was never charged in the second case.
"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.
But after Wounded Knee, AIM also became weakened by arrests and internal strife and a backlash against violence blamed on it. One of its founders, Russell Means, became a bitter opponent of the Bellecourts and a leader of a rival AIM group.
Vernon Bellecourt was active in the campaign to free Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation.
A wake was scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at All Nations Church in Minneapolis and on Tuesday night at the Circle of Life School in White Earth in northwestern Minnesota, with funeral services planned for Wednesday.
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