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Activist Bellecourt, opponent of 'Indian' mascots, dead at 75

MINNEAPOLIS -- Vernon Bellecourt, a longtime leader of the
American Indian Movement who fought against the use of American
Indian nicknames for sports teams, died Saturday his brother said.
He was 75.

Bellecourt died at Abbott Northwestern Hospital of complications
of pneumonia, according to Clyde Bellecourt, a founding member of
the militant American Indian rights group.

Just before he was put on the respirator, Vernon Bellecourt
joked that the CIA had finally gotten him, his brother said.

"He was willing to put his butt on the line to draw attention
to racism in sports," his brother said.

Vernon Bellecourt -- whose Objibwe name WaBun-Inini means Man of
Dawn -- was a member of Minnesota's White Earth band and was an
international spokesman for the AIM Grand Governing Council based
in Minneapolis.

Clyde Bellecourt helped found AIM as a militant group in 1968
and Vernon Bellecourt soon became involved, taking part in the 1973
occupation of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge
reservation in South Dakota. He was present only briefly during the
71-day standoff with federal agents, serving mostly as a spokesman
and fundraiser, Clyde Bellecourt said.

He was active in the campaign to free AIM activist Leonard
Peltier, who was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a
shootout in 1975 on the Pine Ridge reservation.

He was also involved as a negotiator in AIM's 1972 occupation of
the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in Washington as part of
the Trail of Broken Treaties caravan.

In recent years, Bellecourt had been active in the fight against
American Indian nicknames for sports teams as president of the
National Coalition on Racism in Sports and Media.

He was arrested in Cleveland during the 1997 World Series and
again in 1998 during protests against the Cleveland Indians'
mascot, Chief Wahoo. Charges were dropped the first time and he was
never charged in the second case.

After Wounded Knee, Vernon Bellecourt became a leader of AIM's
work abroad, meeting with presidents such as Daniel Ortega of
Nicaragua, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Libyan leader
Moammar Gadhafi, his brother said. He said they plan to list them
as honorary pallbearers.

Clyde Bellecourt said his brother had been in Venezuela about
four weeks ago to meet with President Hugo Chavez to discuss
Chavez' program for providing heating assistance to American Indian
tribes. He fell ill around the time of his return, Clyde Bellecourt
said.