The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 11, 2013

Bellecourt talks identity, education at Gustavus

American Indian Movement founder speaks about movement

By Dan Linehan

---- — ST. PETER — Clyde Bellecourt is familiar with vulgarity, especially when the Redskins or the Braves or the Indians come to town.

Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement, said fans slap their lips and whoop or even scream to “scalp” teams with a Native mascot.

Far from harmless cheering, the whooping once so scared his grandchildren that they wanted to leave the stadium. Rather than leave, he confronted the whoopers and received the backing of nearby fans.

“Every single time I’ve prevailed,” he said. Bellecourt, whose spiritual name is Thunder Before the Storm, spoke to a crowd of perhaps 150 people, mostly students, at Gustavus Adolphus College on Monday.

Bellecourt, 77, had earlier spoken to the class of Professor Barbara Zust, who is teaching a class on Native American perspectives on well being.

Zust said Bellecourt is an American legend and she thought to invite the community to hear him.

Bellecourt’s hourlong talk was largely about the history of the American Indian Movement, which he helped to start in 1968. He often described his efforts in terms of education, especially of children, about the history of Native Americans.

Those educational abuses reached their zenith in the boarding houses that forbid Native languages and customs. Though the boarding schools have by now been largely shuttered, Bellecourt said the lack of teaching about Native Americans is partly responsible for the high school dropout rate.

“Just speak the truth, that’s all we ask for,” he said.

Though the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 re-entered the popular consciousness last year, he said it’s “all but forgotten already.”

One of those old truths, he said, is the origin of the term “Redskins.” He said it originated from the blood that poured down a body after a Native American’s scalp was collected for a random.

Bellecourt believes the word is a vulgarity on par with the “n-word,” and he was part of a Thursday protest in Minneapolis to persuade the Washington Redskins to drop the mascot.

“We want to get rid of being used for America’s fun and games,” he said.

There was also a theme of limited progress. For example, a book that depicted a fanged Native American looming over a corpse riddled with arrows in its back was once burned and never replaced. But while the book is gone, the caricatures haven’t been replaced with a truthful depiction, he said.

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month, though Bellecourt is not a fan.

“That’s an indictment,” he said of assigning a month to learn about a minority. “Why can’t we learn it every day? Why can’t it be in the curricula?”

He suggested that the lack of this curriculum is partially responsible for high unemployment and school dropout rates among Native Americans. In other words, children can come to believe the negative attitudes foisted on them, including by athletic mascots.