Governor Steve Bullock today released the following statement recognizing Nov. 5 as Elouise Cobell Day.
“Today, we honor and celebrate the legacy of Elouise Cobell, a fearless Montanan who refused to allow the federal government’s promises go unkept and instead fought long and hard for accountability. Cobell dedicated a great deal of her life to standing up for what was right, and in the process, she prevailed in holding the government responsible for a century of injustice. By recognizing Elouise Cobell Day, we can ensure she continues to inspire Montanans for generations to come,” Governor Bullock said.
Governor Bullock issued a proclamation establishing Nov. 5 as Elouise Cobell Day in 2015 after the Legislature failed to pass legislation to recognize Cobell’s contributions.
Cobell, born on Nov. 5, 1945, was a member of the Blackfeet Nation and the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit that secured a $3.4 billion settlement for individual Indian landowners after the U.S. Government mismanaged Indian Trust Funds belonging to more than 300,000 people.
While serving as the treasurer of the Blackfeet Tribe for over a decade, Cobell discovered serious problems with the accounting of the management of individual lands held in trust by the United States. When the U.S. Government allotted land to over 300,000 Native Americans, the government promised to manage the mineral-rich lands and pay royalties to the landowners. Instead, the fund was mismanaged, and Cobell filed the largest class-action suit against the federal government in United States history to recover royalties that had never been paid. She filed the lawsuit in 1996, known as Cobell v. Salazar, which lasted over a decade. The case was settled in 2009, and the government issued its first payments to individual landowners in 2012. Cobell died in 2011 after a battle with cancer.
In 2016, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Cobell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.