Elouise Cobell Passes Away: Leader of Cobell Settlement Lawsuit

MAYETTA:  Elouise Cobell, who led the fight demanding that the federal government give Native Americans an accounting of billions of dollars which was successful through a lawsuit, died of cancer yesterday in Great Falls, Mont.

Cobell (Blackfeet) led a 16-year landmark lawsuit that is the largest class-action settlement ever which is resulting in the federal government giving  money back to Native Americans who filed for mismanaging their trust accounts.  Cobell, along with four other Native Americans, filed the lawsuit in 1996 demanding the government give back money lost for oil and gas leases and other uses of individual Indian lands held in trust. In 2009 the Obama administration agreed to settle the lawsuit creating a $3.4 billion fund to, among other things, make payments to individual Indian money account holders.

Upon hearing about the passing of Elouise Cobell, President Obama said, “Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Elouise Cobell yesterday.  Elouise spoke out when she saw the Interior Department had failed to account for billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans.  Because she did, I was able to sign into law a piece of legislation that finally provided a measure of justice to those who were affected.  That law also creates a scholarship fund to give more Native Americans access to higher education, and give tribes more control over their own lands.  Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and all those who mourn her passing.”

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said, “I was honored to work personally with Elouise to reach a settlement that fairly and honorably resolves the long-standing Cobell litigation.  Thanks to Elouise’s leadership and unwavering focus over many years, we passed the Claims Resolution Act in 2010 and President Obama has signed it into law.  For this monumental achievement, and for the attention she brought to the need for a just resolution, Elouise is a hero in every sense of the word.”

Cobell was born on the Blackfeet Reservation on Nov. 5, 1945 and was one of eight children.  Her Indian name was Little Bird Woman and she was the great granddaughter of Mountain Chief, one of the legendary Indian leaders of the West.