Helena (Montana): Elouise Cobell, the
Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight to force the US
government to account for more than a century of mismanaged
Indian land royalties, has died. She was 65.
Cobell died yesterday at a Great Falls hospital of
complications from cancer, spokesman Bill McAllister said.
Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996
claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen
billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust
account holders dating back to the 1880s.
After years of legal wrangling, the two sides in 2009
agreed to settle for USD 3.4 billion, the largest government
class-action settlement in US history. The beneficiaries are
estimated to be about 500,000 people.
Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said in a
2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she
would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight
for the rights of others and lift their community out of
"Maybe one of these days, they won`t even think about me.
They`ll just keep going and say, `This is because I did it,`"
Cobell said. "I never started this case with any intentions of
being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to
people that didn`t have it."
President Barack Obama released a statement that said
Cobell`s work provided a measure of justice to hundreds of
thousands of Native Americans, will give more people access to
higher education and will give tribes more control over their
"Elouise helped to strengthen the government to
government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts
and prayers are with her and her family and all those who
mourn her passing," the statement read.
Cobell said she had heard stories since she was a child
of how the government had shortchanged Native Americans with
accounts for royalties from their land that was leased for
resource development or farming.
She became outraged when she actually started digging
into how much money the government had squandered that
belonged people who were living in dire poverty on the
Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, she said.
She realised the amount mismanaged since the 1880s could
be hundreds of billions of dollars. She said she tried for
years working with two US government administrations to
resolve the dispute in the early 1990s, then decided to sue
with four other Native Americans as plaintiffs when no
progress was made.