Gordon Belcourt ’68, the executive director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, died July 15, 2013, in Billings.
Belcourt, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe and a former Missoula resident, was hailed as an unwavering advocate for Indian Country who took over the tribal leaders council 15 years ago and built it into a powerful regional and national voice for Native peoples.
His determination only increased, his family said, after the murder of one of his eight children in Billings a dozen years ago.
“The most devastating loss of his life was the loss of his daughter Elena Katie,” the family said in his obituary. “After her passing, he doubled his efforts to honor her life by helping to improve the quality of life for others. Forever a Blackfeet warrior, he decided he would never be defined by the problems he encountered.”
Belcourt was 68, and had been ill for some time when he died at St. Vincent Healthcare, according to his family.
The oldest of nine children, Belcourt was born in the winter of 1945 and grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. He was given the name “Meekskimeeksskumapi,” or “Mixed Iron Boy,” in remembrance of World War II and the battle wreckage his uncle, Paul Home Gun Jr., observed after returning from five years of combat.
Belcourt was valedictorian of his Browning High School graduating class, but never considered continuing his education until, his family says, his high school principal “took him aside and informed him he would be going to college.”
Belcourt received a full scholarship to the University of Santa Clara in California, where he also entered the ROTC program and became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
He initially arrived in Missoula to attend law school at the University of Montana, where he met his wife of 43 years, Cheryl. Instead of getting his law degree, however, Belcourt went back to California to earn a master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley before returning home to Montana, where he lived and worked on the Blackfeet Reservation and in Missoula before moving to Billings.
In 2003, UC-Berkeley’s School of Public Health named Belcourt one of its Public Health Heroes for his work on behalf of Native health care. The University of Montana awarded Belcourt an honorary doctorate in 2007.
Survivors include his wife, Cheryl. Their daughter Elena was 21 when she was shot to death by a Lodge Grass man in Billings in 2001 after rejecting his sexual advances.
The Belcourts had seven more children together: Sol, Paul Thunder, Annjeanette Elise, Jaime Ruth, Ben David, Alex Anson and Sienna Noel.