Indian Country mourns passing of Elouise Cobell

October 18, 2011

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

                The Blackfeet woman responsible for the successful 14-year legal battle with the federal government over Indian Trust Fund accounts has passed away.  Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, died at the age of 65 on Sunday, Oct. 16. 

Eloise Cobell passed away on Sunday, Oct. 16 at the age of 65. (Photo used with permission from Mountains and Minds, MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham)

                Cobell, the great-granddaughter of Mountain Chief, decided in 1996 that enough was enough and she was tired of not having a resolution to the Indian Trust Fund situation.  On June 10 of that year, she filed a lawsuit (Cobell v. Salazar) against the government in the hopes of finding a solution and resolution.   President Barack Obama signed the Claims Resolution (aka Settlement Act of 2010) on Dec. 8, 2010 bringing the case to a close. 

                On Monday, as news of her death spread throughout Indian Country, leaders and tribes remembered a woman who would not give up the fight.   

                “I was sad to hear of the passing of Elouise Cobell,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks.  “Her work with native tribes and her unwavering resolve will benefit Indian people for generations to come.  She is a personal hero of mine for her work to start banks on tribal lands as well as her important work towards creating further accountability on the federal government in their dealings with tribes.  She had a profound and lasting impact and she serves as a role model for all those looking to benefit their Tribe and Indian people in this country.”

                Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs Larry Echohawk noted, “Indian Country, as well as the entire nation, has lost a champion of human rights.  Elouise Cobell battled to make our country acknowledge historical wrongdoing, and she spoke truth to power so that justice could prevail.” 

                Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, commented, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of Elouise Cobell, who dedicated her life to the betterment of Indian people.  She sought justice to address historical wrongs that had weighed on our nation’s conscience and was a significant force for change.  I was honored to work personally with Elouise to reach a settlement that fairly and honorably resolves the long-standing Cobell litigation.”

                Under the settlement, $3.4 billion will be provided to settle trust fund accounts and land interests across Indian Country. 

                Congressman Dale E. Kildee (D-MI) serves as the Democratic chairman of the House Native American Caucus.  He remembered Cobell stating, “Elouise was the representation of courage, fearlessly taking on the United States government for the historic mismanagement of Indian trust assets.  For fifteen long years, Elouise fought to settle the Cobell litigation, finally achieving some justice for the Indian people with the largest government class-action settlement in history.  This historic achievement helped turn the page on a sad chapter of federal-Native American relations.”

                Cheryl Causley, chairwoman of the National American Indian Housing Council, commented, “We have truly lost a strong, brave and passionate Indian leader.  It is a sad day for Indian Country indeed.  We lost a true advocate and notable example for all native women.”

                Last month, the Native Action Network presented Cobell with the Sister Spirit Award.  “A tireless advocate for justice, Elouise dedicated her life to serving her community, her Tribe, and her nation,” the Network said in a statement.   “She will be remembered for her joyous laughter, her hard fought settlement and her determination to improve the lives of her community.” 

                Jefferson Keep, president of NCAI, said, “From her life, we have lessons of resilience and commitment, and in her passing, we have lessons that will inspire us to continue improving the health of native people.”