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Vernon Bellecourt, Indian name WaBun-Inini, (October 17, 1931October 13, 2007) was a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe (located in Minnesotamarker), and a Native American rights activist. In the Ojibwe language his name meant "Man of Dawn."


One of 12 Children, Bellecourt lived on the White Earth Indian Reservation until he was sixteen years old when his family moved to Minneapolis. When Bellecourt was nineteen he spent time in St. Cloud prisonmarker for robbing a Saint Paul tavern. When Bellecourt was released he became a hairdresser and proceeded to open a series of beauty salons in Saint Paul. In the mid 1960s he sold his business and moved his family out to near Aspen, Coloradomarker.

Bellecourt was a long time leader in the American Indian Movement. His brother, Clyde Bellecourt, helped found AIM as a militant group in 1968, and Vernon soon became involved as well. He co-founded the AIM chapter in Denvermarker, and was its first Executive Director.

Bellecourt took part in the 1972 Trail of Broken Treaties caravan, then served as a negotiator during AIM's occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which took place followng the caravan's arrival in Washington, D.C. Bellecourt was present briefly during the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation in South Dakotamarker, serving mostly as an AIM spokesman and fundraiser during the 71-day standoff with federal agents.

After Wounded Knee, Bellecourt worked with the International Indian Treaty Council, which advocates on behalf of Indigenous rights throughout the Western Hemispheremarker. He became a leader of AIM’s work abroad, meeting with foreign leaders like Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya, and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

Bellecourt was active for many years in the campaign to free AIM activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Sports mascots and nicknames

As president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media, Bellecourt played a leading role in the struggle to end the use of American Indian nicknames, in American sports. Bellecourt fought against nicknames such as the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves or Kansas City Chiefs. He was arrested twice in Cleveland in protest of the Cleveland Indians's mascot, Chief Wahoo. During the 1997 World Series Bellecourt was arrested for setting fire to a stuffed doll of Chief Wahoo while protesting outside of Jacobs Fieldmarker. Charges against him were dropped. Bellecourt was again arrested in 1998 but was not charged.

Final days

In August 2007, Bellecourt accepted an invitation from the Venezuelan government to attend the First International Congress of Anti-imperialist Indigenous Peoples of America and visited with President Hugo Chavez in Venezuelamarker. The two discussed the possibility of Chavez providing aid to Native American groups. According to his brother, Clyde, Bellecourt fell ill soon after the trip and was hospitalized. He died of pneumonia at age 75, in Minneapolismarker, where he lived.



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