Listen: Red Road Pow Wow, Clyde Bellecourt on sober celebration

MPR’s Paula Schroeder interviews Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt, who talks about Red Road Pow Wow, spirituality, and education of younger generation.


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SPEAKER 1: Indian culture and religion was actually outlawed by the United States federal government in 1890 prior to the massacre that took place on December 26 of 1890 and wounded in South Dakota. When the American movement was born in July of 1968, we knew that our people were wandering aimlessly. They had no spiritual foundation or cultural base to operate out of them. We decided that we had to bring back a drum, because the drum at one time in our history, as an almost all man's history was the center of the universe. We communicated through the drum and communicated with the great spirit. So the drum was very sacred to Indian people.

So we knew that we had to bring back that the spiritual base of what our people had existed under a traditional way of life. And since then, of course, there's been just an explosion of Indian culture throughout North America.

And there's sun dances being held today, there's honoring feasts for traditional drums and ceremonies are taking place throughout North America. Along with that, many of our people have been able to develop a strong spiritual and cultural base and get once again get away from the alcohol and drugs.

SPEAKER 2: Of course, that's a significant piece of this power, this weekend surrounding new year's too, is that this will be an alcohol free celebration. Is this something that has been a real priority for the Native American leaders?

SPEAKER 1: It's been a priority for us since we formed 22 years ago, that we knew that in order to really attack the health problems in our communities surrounding alcohol and drug abuse, that we had to develop this culture and a spiritual base. We started a course in throughout North America to teaching in young people, their culture again and their traditions and start practicing this way of life. And it's we call it a Renaissance.

That's happened here in the last 22 years, where there are hundreds and virtually thousands of programs that have developed around culture, around tradition, schools of education, health programs, chemical dependency, programs have developed around cultural awareness.

SPEAKER 2: I think that we're very aware of that in the Metropolitan area. But as that occurring also in the more rural areas on the reservations and in northern--

SPEAKER 1: Our real strength is still on the reservations. I mean, that's where our traditional people live. The language is being spoken there, a lot of the traditional ceremonies, even though it was outlawed by the United States government. Went underground, they still practice that way of life all these years. And I guess it's a dream of every Indian, particularly the urban Indians, is to go back home.

SPEAKER 2: When we're talking about getting back to the traditional way of being, do you think it's necessary for Indian children to be educated outside of the public schools?

SPEAKER 1: There's been a lot of studies that have proven that to be true. There's efforts to start magnet schools right here in St. Paul. There's a new one beginning in Minneapolis, but the American Indian Movement started it all in 1972. We created what is called the Heart of the Earth survival school in Minneapolis and The Red School House here in St. Paul.

We have also helped develop schools on every reservation here in the state of Minnesota, and it's spread throughout Canada and North America. So we try to instill pride in our young people by teaching them their true history, not to get them in any way to think bad about the government or about their non-Indian counterpart, but to share in that culture. And we teach our young people that value system of sharing that we had at one time and it's working.


In 2008, Minnesota's voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution: to protect drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater.

Efforts to digitize this initial assortment of thousands of historical audio material was made possible through the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. A wide range of Minnesota subject matter is represented within this collection.

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