Elouise Cobell: Rosary begins Friday
at Browning High School

Buffalo's Fire Blog
By Jodi Rave
October 20, 2011,

My last few posts on this page have been surreal. Even now, looking at the headline for Elouise Cobell, the words don’t seem to be from my own hand. It’s particularly difficult to write about someone whose memory will always conjure the image of an indomitable, vibrant woman who lived her life in fifth gear. She was always going, going, going. She always got things done. She was always looking to do something more.

The drive to Browning, Mont. on Friday will be a sad one, marking the end of her life. Cobell, 65, died of cancer on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011 in Great Falls, Mont. The viewing for Elouise, or Little Bird Woman, will begin Friday, at 5 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. rosary at Browning High School in the gymnasium. The funeral will follow on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. also in the same location. I’ve had many interviews with Elouise since 1999. Most recently, I asked her to present at the Indian Land Tenure Foundation Speaker Series at the University of Montana. Elouise provided an overview of her 16-year-long fight in the Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit, a legal battle to secure justice for a half million Indian landowners whose land had been mismanaged by the U.S. Interior Department since 1887.

President Barack Obama and Congress settled the suit in 2010.

Cobell’s UM presentation can be heard on KBGA, Tribal Scene Radio, Episode 28. Also, here are some excerpts from Cobell’s UM speech on March 23, 2011 where she recalls her motivation for filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government:

“I remember driving home that night and I remember saying, ‘God, why did you do this? You shouldn’t have sued them.’ And then I was driving back through the next morning and I looked over to the west and that’s where Ghost Ridge is over on the Blackfeet. That’s where the government had hoarded rations from Blackfeet people and as a result over 500 Blackfeet people starved to death. They just dug a big open pit grave and threw all the bodies in there. I thought about that as I looked over. That’s why I was doing it. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to change the way the government treated individual Indians. I think that we did make a huge change. They all sit up and listen.

I get so many calls from so many individual Indian account beneficiaries that talk about, ‘I’m getting more money. I never got money before and now I’m getting more money.’ They don’t tell you what it’s for but they do get more money.

Here she recounts how government lawyers thought they could get away with withholding information:

As a result of all this fighting for 15 years, let me tell you days in court, the IT (internet technology) Trial lasted 59 straight days and it was straight paperwork. The government, the night before, would come in with a huge dump. They would dump documents like half of this room and expect nobody to go through them, but everybody went through them. They would find some good evidence against them. I remember one piece of paper, it said, “Withhold all the information that you can from them because they will never know.” And we found it. We had it that day in court and they had the guy up on the stand and said, “What about this? Did you write this?” “Yeah. But I did it as a joke.” The judge said, “It’s not very funny now is it?”

Anyway, to sum this all up. I feel that we won and it was a great victory. I think all of you as students is if you do want to change the dynamics of how this country runs, stand up, do something. You don’t have to do anything that they’ll throw you in jail or anything but stand up for your rights. Let congress know—some times I think they get off pretty free because we need to hold everybody accountable. We really do. We just can’t take anything for granted anymore. We can’t trust our trustee so we’ve got to make sure that we monitor and oversee everything that trustee does.

Thank you very much.

Her words, life and work stand as an indelible reminder of the Indian land/trust reform work that remains to be done.