Gordon Belcourt most recently served as the executive director of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council. He walked on July 15 at the age of 68.
“When he started the position, Gordon had to build the organization from the ground up with one employee. He used his knowledge about grant-writing and organizational development to gradually build an institution that provided powerful advocacy for Indian people throughout the state and nation,” said children Annie and Daniel in a biography of their father. “He worked tirelessly to build the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leader’s Council from near bankruptcy to a place of advocacy and power for all tribal nations in Montana, Wyoming, and even Idaho.”
He was born in 1945 and grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation, the oldest of nine children. He was given the traditional Blackfeet name of Mixed Iron Boy in remembrance of World War II and the battle wreckage his uncle observed in combat.
Gordon attended Browning public schools where they spoke the Blackfeet language and ceremonies were a part of his life. He graduated as the valedictorian of Browning High School in Montana, but never thought he would continue his education. The principal had other ideas and had him filling out applications.
Gordon received a full scholarship to attend Santa Clara College in California. While there he joined the ROTC and became a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree and moved back to Missoula for law school at the University of Montana.
He met his wife, Cheryl Antoinette Baker there and they married in 1970. The two had eight children.
Gordon later earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. Once done with his education he moved his family back to the Blackfeet Reservation where Gordon got a job as the president of Blackfeet Community College.
Improving quality of life became an important goal for Gordon after he lost his daughter Elena Katie. It was after this tragedy that became the executive director of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council.
In 2007, Gordon was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Montana for his public service and dedication to improving Native American health.
“As Gordon became ill, he approached his illness with unparalleled courage and dignity. His first concern was the well-being of his children, wife, and grandchildren. His leadership, strength, vision, and willingness to do the right thing rather than the easy thing was well known throughout the country,” his biography says. “He always remembered to put the needs of others before his own and what it felt like to be hungry, poor, and marginalized within society. As a result he lived a generous, thoughtful, and compassionate life filled of hopes for health and wellness for Indian people everywhere. Mixed Iron Boy leaves a legacy of strength, courage, perseverance, creativity, compassion, and love.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, worked with Gordon on a number of issues including infrastructure and permanently reauthorizing the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act.
“Gordon was a tremendous leader and advocate for Indian Country. A trusted and experienced voice, Gordon could always be counted on to use common-sense to get to the heart of the issue and find a solution. He leaves big shoes to fill, and he will be missed by all Montanans.”
Services for Gordon Belcourt will be held at Blackfeet on Friday at 10 a.m.