In Remembrance of Elouise Cobell

In Remembrance of Elouise Cobell, who passed from complications with cancer, Sunday, October 16, 2011, in Great Falls, Montana. She was 65. Elouise was born a great granddaughter of the famous leader Mountain Chief. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters on the Blackfeet reservation. Elouise was also a banker and a rancher. She served as a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. Elouise was the lead plaintiff in the Indian Trust Settlement, and was a longtime champion of Indian rights. She dedicated the last fifteen years of her life to obtaining justice for Native Americans.

Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Elouise 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 poverty. 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 own lands. The statement continued: "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."

Elouise is survived by her husband, Alvin; her only son, Turk, along with his wife Bobbie and their children Olivia and Gabriella; brother Dale Pepion; sisters Julene Kennerly, Joy Ketah and Karen Powell.

Elouise Cobell will be remembered as an extraordinary person as well as a warrior and uncommon leader. Elouise drew the line in the sand and told the government "no longer, no further, and no more." Against seemingly insurmountable odds, she never backed down in her selfless fight for justice for the most vulnerable people in this country and concluded this long-running case for the largest settlement involving the government in American history. A true hero is gone today and everyone should be thankful for her sacrifice and enduring spirit. We may never see the likes of her again. And, while Elouise did not live to see the fruits of her labor, she saw over the horizon to a better world for all individual Indians.

Elouise Cobell

The Washington Post

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Articles Articles

President Barack Obama Remembers Elouise Cobell

October 27, 2011

With the passing of Elouise Cobell, a proud member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, we have lost a champion of Native American rights. Her persistent and determined leadership in the pursuit of justice for Native Americans will leave an enduring legacy.

As treasurer of the Blackfeet Nation, Elouise spoke out when she saw that the federal government had failed to account for billions of dollars that it owed to hundreds of thousands of her fellow Native Americans. In 1996, she filed suit, and for 15 years, tirelessly led a legal battle, with seven trials, 10 appeals, and dozens of published decisions. She fought her battle not just in the courts, but in the halls of Congress before finally securing justice for more than 300,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in the form of a $3.4 billion settlement.

The agreement reached in Cobell v. Salazar marked the largest government class-action settlement in our nation’s history. The scholarship fund this settlement established will give more Native Americans access to higher education. Tribes will have more control over their own lands. Elouise’s tireless efforts strengthened the government-to-government relationship with Indian country, and a generation of Native Americans and all Americans has seen the promise of justice realized.

Last December, I had the privilege to meet with Elouise in the Oval Office prior to signing into law a bill to make things right. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 is a direct result of the settlement that bears her name. It is proof of an enduring American idea – that change is always possible.

But change is never easy. It doesn’t come overnight. In this case, it took 15 years. For 15 long years, despite obstacles and setbacks, Elouise Cobell pressed on with a defiant yet humble refusal to accept the world as it is, and a quiet determination to reach for the world as it ought to be.

“I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero,” she said. “I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

In the face of daunting odds, Elouise remained driven by the belief that America is a place where tomorrow can be better than today – and convinced that this is a country where hard work and great resolve can make a difference.

That is what makes this country special. Even when we haven’t always lived up to our highest ideals, we know we can right a wrong; even if we enjoy certain rights, we know are not truly equal until everybody enjoys those rights; even if we are doing well, we know we have a responsibility to leave a better future for our children, and the obligation to try.

That is what Elouise Cobell did. We mourn her passing, thank her for the legacy she left behind, and commit ourselves to that same passionate pursuit of a more perfect union.

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