Yoon Joung Lee
Elouise Cobell, called Yellow Bird Woman in Blackfeet, was born in 1945 in Montana. Her great grandfather was the tribe’s famous leader, Mountain Chief. She received education from Great Falls Business College before she went to Seattle to work as an accountant. She married there and returned to Montana with her husband to work the land on her family’s ranch.
While growing up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Northwest Montana, she often heard her family and neighbors question why they were not being paid for letting others use their land. The Indians received little or no payment, though the land was placed in trust with the promise that owners would be paid royalties for oil and gas, grazing or recreational leases.
When she became treasurer of the tribe in 1976 with her background and experience in accounting, she became outraged as she dug more into how much money the government had misused. What made her even more upset was that the people the money belonged to were living in dire poverty on the Blackfeet reservation in Northwestern Montana.
She found out that the money was misused and mismanaged since 1880, with amounts owed to the Blackfeet tribe being worth up to hundreds of billions of dollars.After over 14 years of tenacious efforts; 3,600 court filings; 220 days of trial; 80 published court decisions and 10 appeals, Elouise Cobell’s campaign ended in victory in 2009 with the 3.4-billion settlement. Although the sum awarded did not match her own estimation-as high as $27.5billion- of the stolen money from Indians by the American government, this is the largest government class-action settlement in American history.
She was declared a warrior of the Blackfeet Nation and presented with an eagle feather during a tribal ritual in 2000. Without her tenacity and endless effort, it’s for sure there would have been no recognition of misdeeds in the world and compensation to soothe down the anger of mistreated Indians. Hopefully, the standard she set will continue. A hero of Native Americans, Elouise Cobell, died at a hospital in Great Falls, Montana by complications from cancer on Oct 17, 2011. She was 65.