Gordon Belcourt, one of the Rocky Mountain West’s most influential Native American leaders died Monday in Billings.
He was Executive Director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council from 1998 until his death. He was known for building the organization into a powerful regional voice on Native issues, especially public health.
Gordon’s daughter Annie Belcourt says her father’s traditional Blackfeet name, Meekskimeeksskumapi, means Mixed Iron Boy.
She says it’s a name reflecting the strength her father carried with him through his life.
“He dedicated his life to volunteer work, to helping his community, to really helping his family and any native person, regardless of what tribe they came from, whether they were enrolled or not enrolled, his priority was the health of Indian babies, Indian Moms, Indian Dad’s, Indian families,” she said.
Belcourt’s staff at the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council described him as a mentor who led by example. They said late in life he put much of his focus into water rights issues and trying to lower rates of alcoholism and suicide on reservations.
“He was very passionate about what he did. He had a strong heart for those that he was fighting for,” said Program Manager Bethany Fatupaito.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he worked with Belcourt on infrastructure projects, the Tribal Law and Order Act and permanently reauthorizing the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act—which Tester said hadn’t been passed in many years.
“(It) made a real difference in Indian Country, and made a real difference in quality of life for those folks who needed those healthcare services,” Tester said. “Obviously that issue isn’t entirely solved yet, we still have our challenges and that’s moving forward that’s where I’m really going to miss Gordon Belcourt, because he was the kind of leader that looked for solutions.”
UC Berkeley named Belcourt a Public Health Hero in 2003.
The University of Montana awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2007.
Gordon Belcourt had been ill for several months prior to his death. He was 68 years old
Watch Belcourt discuss his Blackfeet faith and its relationship with Christianity in this YouTube interview posted last December: