Picture by Dick Bancroft

Pat Bellanger, ca. 1977

Patricia Joyce Bellanger was born on Feb. 13, 1943, and raised along with her siblings on the Leech Lake Ojibwe reservation by her dad and mom, Veronica Rice and William Bellanger. Her Ojibwe title was Awanakwe, which implies “water girl.” As she grew up within the city of Onigum, the divide between white and Native communities was clear, however her dad and mom warned Bellanger and her siblings in opposition to contact with their conventional Ojibwe neighbors: “(W)e have been informed we couldn’t even take a look at ’em after they walked down the road, walked down the street at Onigum: Don’t take a look at ’em. As a result of they have been witches, they usually had all this energy.” Regardless of this upbringing, Bellanger grew as much as develop into a fierce advocate for Native individuals after she moved to the Twin Cities to attend the College of Minnesota within the Nineteen Sixties. It was throughout this time that she grew to become a founding member of the American Indian Motion (AIM).

Though she obtained much less consideration than the boys who have been the general public face of AIM actions, just like the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, Bellanger performed an equally essential position behind the scenes. A lot of her work in AIM targeted on household and training advocacy within the Twin Cities. Within the Nineteen Sixties and Nineteen Seventies, U.S. authorities have been taking Native kids from their households and putting them in foster care, actually because the households had difficulties conserving their kids in public college — the place non-Native college students and lecturers harassed and discriminated in opposition to them. Native kids have been ceaselessly positioned in white households and eliminated utterly from their tribes.

When it grew to become obvious that combating familial displacement wouldn’t remedy the basis of the issue, Bellanger and fellow AIM members fashioned Coronary heart of the Earth Survival College (initially known as AIM Survival College) in Minneapolis in January of 1972. Coronary heart of the Earth employed dad and mom and members of surrounding Indigenous communities and efficiently labored to revitalize tradition, even with little funding in its early years. As a survival college—the primary of its sort—it offered a secure, welcoming, academic atmosphere for Native college students and included traditions into class time.

Bellanger labored on the Crimson College Home, a survival college based in St. Paul in April of 1972, as a math and English instructor. She additionally wrote articles of incorporation and funding proposals, lobbied for donations of academic provides, and arranged a board of administrators. There isn’t any clear report of when Bellanger left her position as an educator, however the Crimson College Home remained open till 1995, and Coronary heart of the Earth till 2008.

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In 1977, Bellanger spoke at a United Nations convention in Geneva, Switzerland. She charged the U.S. authorities with experimenting on Indigenous kids with out the consent of fogeys; permitting hospitals to supply Indigenous individuals with placebos as a substitute of remedy and baby snatching — paying white households to undertake Indigenous kids faraway from their households by drive or coercion. Bellanger drew on her personal expertise with authorities in St. Paul trying to remove her daughter, Lisa: “Once I refused handy her over, I used to be compelled to signal a paper saying I’d by no means ask the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for any help for my baby. In different phrases, she misplaced all tribal rights, together with training and welfare assist.” The U.S. authorities denied these expenses, however Bellanger and lots of others continued to talk out. Congress responded by enacting the Indian Baby Welfare Act in 1978, giving tribal governments jurisdiction over kids dwelling on reservations.

After serving to to discovered Girls of All Crimson Nations (WARN, a Native ladies’s advocacy group) in 1974, Bellanger known as out uranium mining corporations for making Native ladies infertile, linking areas the place mining had occurred on Dakota land to infertility charges in that space. “It’s essential to perceive,” she defined in a 1979 interview, “that there’s air pollution management, environmental controls, in each state of the union. However they permit totally different, increased radiation ranges on reservations as a result of they’re federal land, not state managed. … It’s genocide, what they’re doing.”

Bellanger’s steady, passionate advocacy for Native ladies and youngsters earned her the title “Grandmother AIM.” Within the Nineties and 2000s, she labored as a paralegal within the Twin Cities Authorized Help Society and continued her efforts on a neighborhood stage by organizing protests and responding to Native well being crises. She labored for the Indian Well being Board earlier than co-founding the Native American Neighborhood Clinic within the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis in 2003.

On April 2, 2015, Bellanger handed away, survived by her son and daughter in addition to six grandchildren.

For extra data on this subject, try the unique entry on MNopedia.

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