Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 1, November 2011

Elouise Cobell dies at 65
Read the entire article: www.latimes.com
Condensed by Native Village


[Editors Note: Also Read: Barack Obama Remembers Eloise Cobell

Montana: On October 16, 2011, Elouise Cobell died in Great Falls from complications of cancer.

Cobell was a member of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe of Montana and a great-granddaughter of Mountain Chief, one of the legendary Blackfeet leaders of the West. She was also lead plaintiff in a 1996 lawsuit accusing the U.S. of cheating Native Americans out of royalty payments for more than 100 years. Cobell's efforts resulted in a record $3,400,000,000 settlement.

Growing up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Elouise often heard her parents and others wonder why they weren't being paid for allowing others to use their land. In 1976, Cobell became the Blackfoot's treasurer. She found the accounting system in chaos and could make neither "hide nor hair of" the trust accounts."

Those trusts were part of the 1887 Dawes Act in an effort to erode tribal systems. The Dawes Act gave parcels of land to Native American individuals but did not let them control it.  Instead, the land was placed in trust, and the U.S. promised to pay them for oil and gas, grazing or recreational leases.

The Indians received little or no payment.

Cobell eventually approached the Native American Rights Fund about a lawsuit against the Interior and Treasury departments. The suit contended that the Dawes Act allowed the U.S. to steal and squander royalties intended for Native Americans.

"It's just such a wrong that if I didn't do something about it, I'm as criminal as the government," Cobell had said.

 

The $3,400,000,000 settlement was reached in June, 2009. It's the largest payment American Indians have ever received from the U.S. government. Among the payments,

It provides a $1,000 cash payment to every individual with a trust account and
$2,000,000,000 for the federal government to buy back the land parcels.

 

Before accepting the settlement, Cobell had to consider the chances of winning a greater sum. While the plaintiffs  estimated they were owed as much as $47,000,000,000, a harsh reality stared them in the face. 

"Time takes a toll, especially on elders living in abject poverty," Cobell said in a 2009 interview. "Many of them died as we continued to struggle to settle this suit. Many more would not survive long to see a financial gain, if we had not settled now."

In 2000, Cobell was declared a warrior of the Blackfeet Nation and presented with an eagle feather, an honor reserved in modern times almost exclusively for U.S. military veterans.

U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus have also introduced legislation to award Elouise Cobell the Congressional Gold Medal. The Congressional Gold Medal is considered the most distinguished recognition that Congress bestows.

 

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