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Indian Activist/Elder Clyde Bellecourt Arrested After Idle No More Protest

Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the AIM, was arrested and detained for several hours on Christmas Eve after attending an Idle No More protest.

Clyde Bellecourt, a founder of the American Indian Movement, was arrested and detained for several hours on Christmas Eve after attending an Idle No More solidarity protest at a mall in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, according to published reports.

Bellecourt, 76 and a citizen of the Anishinabe-Ojibwe Nation, was arrested in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center on Nicollet Mall after the solidarity protest had ended, according to the Star Tribune. He said he was improperly arrested while drinking a cup of coffee and waiting for his son to finish shopping.

A peaceful Flash Mob Round Dance took place at the IDS Center in one of the dozens of solidarity rallies across the United States in recent days in support of Canada’s Idle No More movement. Bellecourt was not involved in organizing the event and was informed of the Round Dance only moments before it happened, according to a press release issued by Jennifer Hudson, executive director of the One Heart One Mind Interpretive Center. The nonprofit center supports the traditional way of life and ceremonies of the Standing Bear Community and creates a safe environment where people can learn about the Lakota traditions. “We’ve been working with Clyde and the AIM interpretation center for about two-and-a-half years and I happened to be in Minneapolis when Clyde was arrested and they asked me to coordinate the press so we could get the word out as fast as possible. We were also working in conjunction with the Twin Cities AIM Patrol to put out the press release,’ Hudson told Indian Country Today Media Network on the phone December 27. As for Bellecourt, “He’s fine,” Hudson said. “He peacefully resisted his arrest. He has some bruising around his wrists but he’s fine. And his arrest has really drawn a lot of attention to the Idle No More cause and that’s wonderful. He’s been in touch with the founders and he’s really standing in solidarity with them.”

Hudson said that Bellecourt had arrived late at the event and stayed to watch the dancing, which lasted for around 20 minutes. While sitting peacefully on a mall bench after the Round Dance, Bellecourt was approached by Minneapolis police, who accused him of organizing the protest, and asked him to leave. Bellecourt told police repeatedly that he was not involved with the organizing and didn’t know who had organized it. “He didn’t want to leave,” Hudson said. “He told the police, ‘I’m shopping and having a cup of coffee. Why do I have to leave the mall?’” But police insisted he leave or he would be arrested. “So instead he chose to lay down,” Hudson said. The police seized his cane, handcuffed him and then tried to lift him by the handcuffs, He was transported to the Hennepin County jail on a stretcher. A video shows a calm and cooperative Bellecourt, who later told the Star Tribune that he weighs 280 pounds, being lifted by officers onto the stretcher then wheeled out of the building.

Watch footage of the arrest below:

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Bellecourt told the Star Tribune the next day that after the Round Dance he was sitting and waiting for his son to finish shopping when the police approached him. He said he couldn't move because the police took away a cane that he uses because of a bad knee and recent hip replacement surgery. He said that the police had asked him to shut down the protest, but he told an officer that he wasn't in charge and added, "I'm not colonized yet and I don't do your work for you." Bellecourt, who also has diabetes and recently had two coronary stents implanted, said he was denied access to insulin while in jail. Asked if he was injured in the arrest, he said officers "almost tore my hand off" when they pulled on his handcuffed wrist.

The police report says Bellecourt was picked up at 12:05 p.m. on allegations of disorderly conduct and trespassing, according to the Star Tribune. IDS security workers told police they had given numerous warnings to Bellecourt and others to leave the "private property" or face arrest. The police report says that Bellecourt sat down and refused to leave. When officers attempted to escort him outside, he went limp on the floor. Police called an ambulance because of his age and medical conditions, the report said.

Larry Leventhal, Bellecourt’s longtime lawyer, got him released from jail early in the evening without posting bail, the Star Tribune says. Leventhal protested his client’s arrest, saying that the Crystal Court is a public space and Bellecourt "had a right to be there." Neither Bellecourt nor other protesters were disrupting or hindering normal business, but Bellecourt was targeted by police and was the only one arrested, Leventhal said. "He was singled out. It was more about who he is rather than what he was doing," the lawyer said. It’s not clear if Leventhal and Bellecourt plan to sue the police for false arrest. "The grounds are there. There was no probable cause" to arrest him, Leventhal said. He called the arrest the "renewal of an old practice" of harassing Bellecourt.

Bellecourt is a major figure in the American Indian Movement. He played an important role in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 and a founding role in the Legal Rights Center and the International Indian Treaty Council, according to the American Indian Culture Support (AICS) website. He is also directing the Peacemaker Center for Indian Youth and the AIM Patrol, which provides security for the Minneapolis Indian community. He is an organizer of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media and other projects. According to the website, Bellecourt sees a bright future: "This generation of little children is the 7th Generation. Not just Indian children but white, black, yellow and red. Our grandfathers said the 7th generation would provide new spiritual leaders, medicine people, doctors, teachers and our great chiefs. There is a spiritual rebirth going on."