R.I.P.: Elouise Cobell (1946-2011)

By Joe Leydon
Cowboys and Indians blog
October 17, 2011

Cowboys & Indians would like to extend condolences to the family and friends of Elouise Cobell, the extraordinarily tenacious Native American activist who led a lenghty legal battle to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties. She passed away Sunday at age 65 in a Great Falls, Montana hospital due to complications from cancer.

As the Associated Press reports, Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe of Montana, was the lead plaintiff in a 1996 lawsuit that claimed the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s. Last June, after years of legal wrangling, the two sides reached an agreement and a federal judge approved a settlement of $3.4 billion, the largest payment Native Americans have ever received from the U.S. government.

When asked by the AP in 2010 what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said she hoped her legal victory would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty. "Maybe one of these days," Cobell said, "they won't even think about me. They'll just keep going and say, 'This is because I did it.' 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."

One might say that Cobell came by her fighting spirit naturally: She was a great-granddaughter of Mountain Chief, one of the legendary Blackfeet leaders of the West.