Political Matters – April 2022

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By Mordecai Specktor

Peggy Bellecourt journeys on
A little more than two months after her husband, Clyde Bellecourt, died, Peggy Bellecourt journeyed to the Spirit World on March 16. She was 78.

She was Ish Kway Yawng I Nawbi Quay – “She is looking back for the children coming along behind us,” according to the obituary in the Red Lake Nation News. I remember Peggy as welcoming, kindhearted and possessed of a sharp sense of humor.

Along with Clyde and others, Peggy was a co-founder of the American Indian Movemnt (AIM). Although she won’t have a lengthy obituary published in The York Times, Peggy was committed to Native rights and was in the forefront of the struggle. The Red Lake Nation News also mentioned the Peggy was a “first degree of Midewiwin Three Fires Society Lodge, involved with the Trail of Broken Treaties, Heart of the Survival School and Gathering of the Sacred Pipe Sundance, also with Clyde. She loved to garden, gardening with the Elaine M. Stately Peacemaker Center for Indian Youth.”

May Peggy’s memory always be a blessing for her children and those who loved her.

Jim Crow in SoDak
On March 21, I posted a link on Facebook to a Rapid City Journal story about the Grand Gateway Hotel. (I first saw the story via the Native Lives Matter account on Facebook.)

According to the newspaper, Connie Uhre, one of the hotel owners, had posted a message on Facebook, saying that she can “not allow a Native American to enter our business including Cheers.” Following a shooting at the hotel, Uhre said she can’t tell “who is a bad Native or a good Native.”

Of course, banning Native people from the hotel evokes episodes from this country’s long, sad history of racial discrimination; especially, the Jim Crow era in the South, where Black people were legally barred from schools, restaurants, drinking fountains, etc., that were reserved for the use of white people.

Uhre’s racist statement on social media also reminds me of historical depredations against American Indians in South Dakota. There was the humiliation and murder of Raymond Yellow Thunder by white thugs in Gordon, Nebraska, in February 1972. He was stripped of his pants and underwear, stuffed in a car trunk, then shoved into an American Legion club, where spectators gawked at the 51-year-old Oglala Lakota man who worked most of his life as a ranch hand. Yellow Thunder died of his injuries a few days later, and his body was found in a car in a used-car lot.

Les and Pat Hare, the Anglo brothers who beat Yellow Thunder, were later convicted of manslaughter and given relatively short prison sentences – six years and two years – and small fines. These events were protested by the American Indian Movement, and eventually led to the takeover of the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the famous 71-day government siege.

In a 2009 story for Native Times (nativetimes.com), Dr. Dean Chavers recalled the ugly atmosphere underlying the murder of Raymond Yellow Thunder: “Murders of Indians had been going on in South Dakota for a hundred years by that time. Before the Hares, allegedly, no white man had ever been arrested, tried, or convicted for killing an Indian. It was as hard to convict a white man of killing an Indian in South Dakota as it was to convict a KKK member for lynching a Black man in Alabama. The signs in stores, bars, and restaurants that said ‘No Dogs or Indians Allowed’ had started to come down by then. The first time I went to South Dakota in 1966 they were still up. But even though the signs had started to come down, the racist attitudes were still there.”

In 2022, the mood is different in the state, and the Grand Gateway Hotel affair catalyzed large protests. On March 28, the Rapid City Journal reported that tribal leaders “issued a trespassing notice and cease and desist order” to the hotel. The notice was signed by Oglala Lakota Sioux President Kevin Killer, Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier, Crow Creek Sioux Chairman Peter Lengkeek, Rosebud Sioux President Scott Herman and Standing Rock Sioux Chairwoman Janet Alkire.

The notice addressed to Uhre and the hotel cited the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty between the U.S. and Great Sioux Nation: “In accordance with the treaty and the laws located in the United States of America, and as a consequence of your act, you must permanently cease and desist from the violations charged. You are instructed to vacate and remove your persons and any personal property you deem necessary from the Treaty Territory of the Great Sioux Nation immediately.”

Neither Uhre nor the hotel responded to requests for comment by the Rapid City Journal.