|July 18, 2013
Gordon Belcourt, Executive Director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, passes away
In the winter of 1945, Gordon Matthew Belcourt, Meekskimeeksskumapi or Mixed Iron Boy was born to Helen (Homegun) Belcourt and Alex Belcourt.
Gordon grew up in Starr School on the Blackfeet Reservation, the oldest of 9 children. Gordon was given a traditional Blackfeet Indian name, “Mixed Iron Boy” in remembrance of World War II and the battle wreckage his uncle, Paul Home Gun Jr., observed after returning from a five (5) years of combat.
As a child, Gordon attended Browning public schools where Blackfeet language, cultural, and ceremonial inventories guided his life. He graduated from Browning High School as the class Valedictorian but never thought about attending college; however, the principle of Browning High School took him aside and informed him he would be going to college. Gordon completed an application for college and received a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Santa Clara College in California. He entered the ROTC and became a second lieutenant in the United States Army. Officer training was no easy endeavor but when Gordon set a goal he finished it. He completed his bachelor’s degree and moved to Missoula to attend Law School at the University of Montana. It was there that he met the love of his life, Cheryl Antoinette Baker. Gordon and Cheryl married in 1970 Gordon and Cheryl married in 1970 and later welcomed their first child Sol. Gordon and Cheryl had 7 more children: Paul Thunder, Annjeanette Elise, Jaime Ruth, Elena Kate, Ben David, Alex Anson, and Sienna Noel.
Gordon completed his Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley. He moved his family home to build a life on the Blackfeet Reservation north of his beloved Starr School near Red Blanket Hill. Gordon served as the president of the Blackfeet Community College and was active as a parent, ceremonial leader, outdoorsman, and leader within this family and community.
Gordon experienced some significant blessings as well as challenges in his life. Growing up as an Indian person rising from poverty into success in many worlds required significant skill, perseverance, courage, humor, intelligence, compassion, prayer, and love. Forever a Blackfeet warrior he decided that he would never be defined by the problems he encountered. The most devastating loss of his life was the loss of his daughter Elena Katie. After her passing, he doubled his efforts to honor her life by helping to improve the quality of life for others.
Gordon spent the 1990s working and raising his family living in Browning, Missoula, and then Billings. He was hired as the Executive Director of the Montana Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council. When he started the position, Gordon literally had to build the organization from the ground up with one employee. He used his knowledge about grant-writing and organizational development to gradually build an institution that provided powerful advocacy for Indian people throughout the state and nation. He worked tirelessly to build the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leader’s Council from near bankruptcy to a place of advocacy and power for all Tribal Nations in Montana, Wyoming, and even Idaho.
Gordon always maintained his strength, perseverance, and pursuit of positive changes within the world through both his personal and professional life. He worked to establish a regional Tribal Institutional Review Board to help protect the rights of Indian people and communities; he volunteered at prisons to help Indian inmates meet their spiritual needs; he wrote countless grants to improve health and educational access for Indians throughout the region; volunteered as a board member for a myriad of organizations that helped those in need be they human or from the natural world.
He was honored by the State of California and the University of California Berkeley with the highest honor they can bestow upon an alumnus as a Public Health Hero. He was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by The University of Montana in 2007 for his public service and professional dedication to improving Native American health and wellness. He described that one of his mottos for life was, “To thy own self be true.”
As Gordon became ill, he approached his illness with unparalleled courage and dignity. His first concern was the well being of his children, wife, and grandchildren. His leadership, strength, vision, and willingness to do the right thing rather than the easy thing was well known throughout the country. He always remembered to put the needs of others before his own and what it felt like to be hungry, poor, and marginalized within society. As a result he lived a generous, thoughtful, and compassionate life filled of hopes for health and wellness for Indian people everywhere. Mixed Iron Boy leaves a legacy of strength, courage, perseverance, creativity, compassion, and love.