Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

WaBun-Inini (Vernon Bellecourt) (1931-2007)

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

WaBun-Inini (Vernon Bellecourt) (1931-2007)

Article excerpt

WABUN-ININI, born Vernon F. Bellecourt, died Oct. 13 at the age of 75 of complications from pneumonia. He not only was an important leader in the American Indian community, but was a respected diplomat between that community and the Arab world.

A member of the Crane Clan of the Anishinabe Ojibway nation, WaBun-Inini-"Day Break Man" in Anishinabe-was born Oct. 17, 1931 to Charles Bellecourt Sr., a World War I veteran disabled by mustard gas, and Angeline Bellecourt, who raised 12 children on government benefits, and with no running water or electricity, on the Minnesota White Earth reservation. There he attended St. Benedict's parochial school until the family moved to St. Paul.

At the age of 19, after a series of odd jobs, Bellecourt was convicted of robbing a bar and sentenced to St. Cloud prison, where he learned to be a barber. After he was released, he attended beauty school and became a hair stylist, soon opening two successful "Mr. Vernon" beauty salons. In the mid-1960s, he sold his business and moved to Denver, where he sold real estate.

At the time, Denver was emerging as a major "relocation center" for American Indian refugees fleeing reservations under physical and economic siege. U.S. Termination policy had revoked the reservations' special status, cut off their funding and pressured the people to leave, providing one-way trips to urban centers for job-training.

In Minneapolis in July 1968, Bellecourt's younger brother Clyde, along with Eddie Benton Banais, Dennis Banks and George Mitchell, founded what would be the first chapter of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to assist the displaced refugees with jobs, housing, and education-and to protect them from police brutality. AIM's second chapter was organized in Cleveland.

Influenced by his brother, Vernon Bellecourt founded the third chapter in Denver. It focused on the spiritual and cultural education of urbanized American Indians, including a program for prisoners that received federal funding. As part of his own spiritual and cultural evolution, Bellecourt took the name WaBun-Inini, given him by an Ojibway medicine man.

By 1971 WaBun-Inini had emerged as a key spokesperson and negotiator. He served as an ambassador and fund-raiser during the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff and, as AIM national director, addressed the United Nations. He helped organize the first Treaty Conference in 1974, and until his death was a special representative of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), an organization representing indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere to the United Nations.

Through the IITC, AIM developed close relationships with movements across the Americas. WaBun-Inini recently traveled to Venezuela to attend a conference of indigenous elected Latin American officials. Days before his death, he addressed a meeting between 30 American Indian nations and CITGO, the Venezuelan national petroleum company, that finalized a three-year deal for badly needed heating oil to be provided to American Indian reservations by a CITGO subsidiary.

AIM also developed relationships with Africa and the African Diaspora. In 1974, the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) introduced WaBun-Inini and the Treaty Council to the Libyan Embassy in Washington, DC, beginning a long relationship with Libya's Green Revolution and its leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi. This relationship led to a meeting in the early 1980s, hosted by the Libyan government and organized by WaBun-Inini, of over 400 indigenous nations from the Americas. …

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