Gordon Belcourt, a leader who worked to prevent suicide and curb alcohol abuse among American Indians, died July 15, 2013, at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Mont. He was 68.
Belcourt had been executive director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council since 1998. He is credited with building the council from a single-employee organization into a powerful advocate for Indian people throughout the region and the nation. Under Belcourt’s leadership, the council received $5 million in 2009 to fight alcohol abuse, which Belcourt called a continuing and serious problem in American Indian communities.
Belcourt was a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and was given a traditional Blackfeet Indian name of “Meekskimeeksskumapi” or “Mixed Iron Boy.” He grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation and was the oldest of nine children.
He graduated from Browning High School as the class valedictorian, and he received a full scholarship to Santa Clara College in California, where he completed his bachelor’s degree. He then moved to Missoula to attend Law School at the University of Montana, where he met his future wife Cheryl Antoinette Baker. Together, they had eight children: Sol, Paul Thunder, Annjeanette Elise, Jaime Ruth, Elena Kate, Ben David, Alex Anson, and Sienna Noel.
Belcourt earned his master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
He was a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and once served as president of Blackfeet Community College. Belcourt helped establish a regional Tribal Institutional Review Board to better protect the rights of Native Americans and pursued numerous initiatives aiming to improve the quality of life in Indian Country.
In 2003, Belcourt received the Public Health Hero award from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health for his dedication to improving health care for American Indian people throughout North America.
Montana’s congressional delegation released statements praising Belcourt and his work. “He leaves big shoes to fill, and he will be missed by all Montanans,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said.