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.

Old Friends

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

Dale Hartwig (red shirt) and the Chicago Seven Gathering, McCormick Theological Seminary, 2004.

This morning news arrived of the passing of an old friend. Dale is a classmate, one of seven who call ourselves The Chicago Seven. The Seven met annually until 2004 when the gathering was reduced to Six because of Dale’s advancing Parkinson’s. The gatherings have continued to be powerful bonds of friendship, but never again so meaningful as when there were Seven.

MEMORIAL TRIBUTE to be shared at the Celebration of Life & Victory over Death for DALE HARTWIG

Dale was such a joy for all of the Chicago Seven (now Six). His quiet spirituality brought a stillness to the room, or tears, and so much reality and the tenderness of a poet. The last time all seven of us McCormick alums gathered in Chicago, we sat around a long table sharing our thoughts and work. Dale and I were sitting next to each other, as we often did, at one end of the table. When it came his turn, Dale moved some papers in front of me and asked that his words be read. His contribution, as I recall it, was a Greek exegesis from a New Testament text that reminded us of his love for biblical exegesis, he being the only one of us who left seminary to become more proficient in NT Greek than when we left. His sharing also included a poem he had written. As I read it aloud on his behalf – his surrogate voice – he began to weep because his words had been heard! Here’s the poem in memory of that sacred Hartwig moment – one of many – that the rest of us will forever cherish.

“THE SURROGATE VOICE” – GORDON C. STEWART (WRITTEN IN THANKSGIVING FOR THE CHICAGO GATHERING ’04)

As the surrogate voice reads on,
the author sits and sobs
his wrenching tears from primal depth;
from some abyss of joy
or nothingness…or both.

The author’s sighs and piercing sobs-
arrest routine,
invoke a hush,
dumb-found the wordy room.

He cannot speak,
his Parkinson’s tongue tied,
his voice is mute, in solitude confined,
all but sobs too deep for words.
Another now has become
his voice, offering aloud with dummy voice
the muted contribution
in poetic verse the ventriloquist’s voice has penned.

The abyss of muted isolation ope’d,
his words, re-voiced aloud,
hush the seven to sacred silence, all…
except from him, their author.

Whence comes this primal cry:
From depths of deep despair and death,
from loneliness, or depths of joy
We do not know.

The surrogate voice reads on
through author’s sobs and sighs,
through his uncertain gasps for air
and our uncertain care.

The iron prison gates – the guards
of his despair – unlock and open out
to turn his tears from prison’s hole
to tears of comrade joy.

His word is spoken, his voice is heard,
a word expressed
in depth and Primal Blessing,
pardoned from the voiceless hell.

The stone rolls back,
rolls back, rolls back,
from the brother’s prison’s tomb,
the chains of sadness snap and break!

At one, at one, we seven stand,
in Primal Silence before the open tomb,
as tears of loss, of gain, of tongues released
re-Voice unbroken chords of brotherhood.