Elouise C. Cobell
A long-respected leader and advocate, Elouise Cobell was most recently known for leading a landmark lawsuit against the federal government over the misuse of Indian Land Trust funds. In Cobell vs. Salazar, Ms. Cobell argued that the U.S. Department of the Interior of mismanaging fees that the government collected from leases on Indian lands for use of natural resources such as lumber, oil, and minerals. In late 2010, the Obama administration agreed to settle the lawsuit for $3.4 billion dollars. Thousands of Native Americans will be eligible for monetary distributions from the settlement.
A great-granddaughter of Mountain Chief, one of the legendary Indian leaders of the West, Ms. Cobell was the executive director of the Native American Community Development Corporation a non-profit affiliate of Native American Bank. A member of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe of Montana, she also served as chairperson for the Blackfeet National Bank, the first national bank located on an Indian reservation and owned by a Native American tribe. Ms. Cobell was one of the bank’s lead organizers and was instrumental in the formation of the Blackfeet Reservation Development Fund, Inc. Her work on the Individual Indian Monies Trust Correction and Recovery Project won admiration by many. That was a project to reform the U.S. Government's management of Individual Indian Trust Assets.
Ms. Cobell was a recipient of the 1997 "Genius Grant" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Fellowship Program. In 2005 she received a "Cultural Freedom Fellowship" from the Lannan Foundation, an award that cited her persistence in bringing to light the government's "more than a century of government malfeasance and dishonesty" with the Indian Trust. In 2007 she was one of ten people given the AARP Impact Award (for making the world a better place) and in 2004 The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development presented her with the Jay Silverheels Achievement Award.
Ms. Cobell's professional, civic experience and expertise includes serving as co-chair of Native American Bank, NA., a board member for First Interstate Bank, a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, as well as a member of other boards. Ms. Cobell served for thirteen years as the treasurer for the Blackfeet Indian Nation in Montana.
In addition to operating a cattle and crop ranch with her husband, she was active in local agriculture and environmental issues, founding the first Land Trust in Indian Country and served as a trustee for the Nature Conservancy of Montana.
Elouise Cobell was a graduate of Great Falls Business College and attended Montana State University where she received an Honorary Doctorate. Her professional background was in accounting and community development. Ms. Cobell received the 2002 International Women's Forum award for "Women Who Make a Difference" in Mexico City.
Ms. Cobell died October 16, 2011 at the age of 65 after a battle with cancer. She is gratefully remembered by the Northwest Area Foundation for years of service on its board of directors.