Thunder and a Gentle Breeze (Clyde Bellecourt)

Yesterday the thunder stopped. This morning’s Star Tribune announced the death of Clyde Bellecourt —Nee-gon-we-way-we-dun — (“Thunder Before the Storm”). Time will not silence the echo of his thunder. History will not erase the evidence that Clyde was here.

America’s First People see and hear things I do not. Ojibwe spirituality says the Clyde is not gone. Not yet. Before he “departs” from us, his spirit will hover for three days, visiting loved ones and friends. If the Ojibwe have it right, perhaps I’ll sense a presence wafting across my path.

Stephanie Autumn and Clyde Bellecourt honoring Doug with Indian blanket

Clyde Bellecourt (L) watching Stephanie Autumn honor Legal Rights Center co-founder and first Director Doug Hall during MN Restorative Justice Campaign picnic in Wabasha, MN.

A Living Legacy

Clyde’s obituary is long and storied. He was here, he was there, he was everywhere. Every chapter of his life will paint him as the warrior that he was, fighting in the streets and speaking truth to power in courts, city halls, governors’ offices, Congressional offices, and the United Nations, standing for the rights of America’s First People and an end to the myth of White superiority and supremacy. His voice was the voice of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) Football fans in Washington, D.C. no longer rout for “the Redskins” and baseball fans in Cleveland will forget over time that it was Clyde who led the national campaign to change the teams’ names. The results of the Storm will not blow away.

Thunder Is the Sound of Kindness

What will not be said of him is more important than his victories. Clyde Bellecourt did thunder, but his thunder came from kindness. When my life had fallen into public shame, it was Clyde and the board of the law center he co-founded whose kindness lifted me from life under the bridge. For seven-and-a-half years I came to know him in ways the public did not. He did not always thunder; he was also quiet. The demonstrations, marches, and speaking the truth to power were only the loudest moments of his life. In quiet moments it was Clyde who searched for people living under the viaduct and became their trusted friend and advocate.

Thunder and Wind-Chimes

After an off-duty MPD policer officer had reportedly dumped an intoxicated man on the pavement behind Little Earth Housing and defiled him, those who had witness it turned to Clyde and the Legal Rights Center. No one knew the victim. In the days that followed, it was Thunder-Before-the-Storm who worked the grapevine to find the man, and when he found him, he quietly arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police and MPD investigators re: the case, and to change how things are for people of color on the streets. In those moments, Clyde worked quietly out of kindness. The sound was more like wind-chimes.

If you feel a gentle breeze and hear the sound of wind-chimes, who knows? It just may be the Thunder Before the Storm.

Gordon C. Stewart, Brooklyn Park, MN, January 12, 2022.

10 thoughts on “Thunder and a Gentle Breeze (Clyde Bellecourt)

  1. Hey Gordon ~ (Long time!) Just a quick note to belatedly add my 1.13.2022 post re: Clyde (per my Strib moniker “demystifier”): “Clyde was once announced ‘Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore him.’ This is because he had the heart of a lion – always willing to fight for the underdog. However, many righteous causes he adopted were initiated by local American Indian women. So it goes: we remember the ones with the bullhorn. (But most of us tremble at the thought of reaching for it – not Clyde, had the cast iron spine for it.)


    • You got it, Bill. I feel fortunate to have walked with Clyde and the women for whose causes he took the bullhorn. Cast iron spine, indeed; he could always count on Peggy and the others like Stephanie Autumn to cover his back. Great to hear from you.


  2. I’m over sixty and it seems there’s never been a time in my life when I wasn’t hearing the name of Clyde Bellecourt. Gordon, when twenty years ago we first met, you were speaking of with admiration. Thank you for this fitting eulogy, amidst the beginning of a rolling testament.


    • Thank you, Sir. Your memory is good. We had moments together that are etched in my memory so long as memory lasts. One I can share is this. Years ago, Clyde was a patient at HCMC. His friend, a medicine woman, brought sage for a healing rite. The smoke tripped the fire alarm everywhere in the hospital. I don’t remember the rest, just the sage wafting up the fire sensors. Traditional medicine and western medicine mixed together is panicking!


  3. Thank you Gordon, Deep soul, generous with being present, about being, re-membering who he is, was. May we learn non-violence by his example of response to harm, may we continue his legacy of defense of all human dignity, and the earth. May he rest in Mother Earth knowing he made a difference for many and the future. Peace Chris

    Sent from my iPad



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