Elouise Cobell, champion in landmark Indian lawsuit, dies

Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet Nation woman who led and won the largest government class action settlement in U.S. history, died Sunday.

Cobell filed a class action lawsuit against the Interior Department in 1996, claiming the government did not provide a historical account for Individual Indian Money accounts, which the government held in trust in exchange for leasing tribal land, and either mismanaged or failed to deposit the funds.

A $3.4 billion settlement in the case won final approval in June.

"Elouise spoke out when she saw that the Interior Department had failed to account for billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans," President Obama said in a statement. "Because she did, I was able to sign into law a piece of legislation that finally provided a measure of justice to those who were affected. Elouise helped to strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and all those who mourn her passing."

In addition to $1.5 billion for the tribe members affected and a $1.9 billion fund for buybacks of property and land consolidation, the law puts $60 million toward a scholarship fund for Native American students.

Interior continues to make progress on provisions of the settlement. Representatives from the department and tribal leaders from Eastern Oklahoma and the Southern Plains Region met Oct. 6 for the sixth and final regional tribal consultation meeting. The meetings, which began in July, aimed to create a strategy for land consolidation.

"I was honored to work personally with Elouise to reach a settlement that fairly and honorably resolves the long-standing Cobell litigation," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. "For this monumental achievement, and for the attention she brought to the need for a just resolution, Elouise is a hero in every sense of the word."

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