Elouise Cobell Day: UM Celebrates Legendary Native American Woman | Missoula

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MISSOULA, Mont. – Born on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana, Elouise Cobell eventually won a class action lawsuit against the US government for mismanagement of Indian trust funds in 2009, before dying in 2011.

In 2015, then Governor Steve Bullock officially recognized November 5 as Elouise Cobell Day.

The University of Montana hosted the third annual celebration of Elouise Cobell Day on Friday.

UM’s special guest speaker Lea Whitford said Cobell fought hard to win the lawsuit.

“She stuck with that, and thank goodness she did, didn’t she? Those of us who live on tribal properties or are registered, or have that connection to Indian country like that we are grateful, ”said Whitford.

After graduating from the University of Montana, Cobell worked as treasurer for Blackfeet Nation. It was then that she realized that many Native Americans were not receiving the money that was theirs for their lands, from the Office of Indian Affairs.

Cobell’s attorney in Cobell vs Salazar, Alex Pearl, explained what it looked like for Native American account holders.

“Can you imagine asking your bank how much money is in your account, and they shrug their shoulders and say they’re not sure? Well, that’s basically what happened to IIM account holders , since the inception of the trust, ”said Pearl. .

Cobell has proven that the government abused Indian trust funds for over a century, leaving Native Americans in poverty.

The lawsuit resulted in a $ 3.4 billion settlement, which included money for trial members, the land consolidation program, and a college scholarship fund for Native Americans.

“She was a visionary in the sense that she knew the wrongs that were happening and she knew she wanted something done and she did it,” Whitford said.

Cobell died of cancer just months after the settlement received the final seal of approval in 2011, but many Native Americans are still reaping the rewards of her accomplishments today.

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