Clyde Bellecourt, the White Earth Ojibwe co-founder of the American Indian Movement (AIM), recently visited North Idaho College where he inspired students by being passionate about what he believes in.
“He inspired me to not only think of myself but also the generation below me,” said Millie Douglas, a Navajo student.
Amanda Johnson, American Indian Student Alliance (AISA) vice president, spent most of the day showing Bellecourt around to different classrooms and listening to him speak. “The first time it touched me, like knowing the truth. The second time it touched me knowing he touched them, inspired them. The whole day was one of the best days of my life,” said Johnson, who is Coeur d’Alene.
More than 150 people gathered in Schular Auditorium on campus to listen to Bellecourt’s primary presentation the evening of February 2. Before he spoke, the Oyate Drummers and Singers performed an AIM honor song.
Evanlene Melting Tallow, an advisor for AISA, which sponsored the event, said students and community members were interested in AIM. “What does it mean to us? Why did they start? How did it affect us through the years and how will it affect us in the future?” Melting Tallow, who is Blackfeet/Blood, asked.
Bellecourt, Non Gon Nway Wee Dung (Thunder Before the Storm), was one of the prime organizers of the Wounded Knee takeover in 1973, which led to the subsequent unresolved deaths of over 60 people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He began by speaking of the “beautiful life before those boats came across the ocean,” and how Native people didn’t have a religion but a “way of life.” He said “there was a ceremony for everything, before harvesting wild rice, before tapping maple trees, before planting a garden, everything we did had to have a ceremony.”
He also talked of the treaties that were later broken and promises that weren’t kept. He told of the formation of AIM, saying one of the first effective actions was to monitor police brutality. Later they founded the Indian Health Board, the first Indian urban-based provider in the country. He described the march on Washington, D.C. known as the Trail of Broken Treaties and the 1978 walk from California to Washington, D.C. to stop anti-Indian legislation.
“He’s a great motivational speaker and has so much information to share,” Bernice Seminole, Northern Arapaho, said. “I was glued to his every word.”
Bellecourt commented on the pipelines being planned to transfer oil from Alberta to Texas and another from Winnipeg through two reservations, saying, “It could destroy all the wild rice and fisheries and everything.” He believes President Barack Obama could lose Indian votes if he allows the pipelines.
During the afternoon reception, AISA members presented a check for $5,500 to the NIC Foundation for the Che’nshish Scholarship fund. This money was raised by the alliance and will be used toward scholarships for incoming Native students.
North Idaho College is a two-year school on the shores of Coeur d’Alene Lake in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. There are currently 172 Native American students enrolled there.