2018 – Advocacy,
Elouise Pepion Cobell (“Yellow Bird Woman”), fought tirelessly for government accountability, and for Native Americans to have control over their own financial future. During her life, she won countless awards, and successfully won a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Government. In 1987, she helped found the Blackfeet National Bank, now the Native American Bank, the first American bank owned by a tribe. On June 10, 1996, Cobell, along with the Native American Rights Fund, filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior for the mismanagement of the Indian Trust Funds belonging to over 300,000 individual tribal members. Cobell v. Salazar remains one of the largest class-action lawsuits ever filed against the United States government. Cobell was not only the lead plaintiff, but raised money for the suit, and donated part of the $310,000 from her MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” to the cause. After 13 years of contentious court battles, Cobell and her lawyers agreed to a $3.4 billion settlement with the U.S. Government in December 2009. The settlement included $1.5 billion for the members of the lawsuit, $1.9 billion for a Land Consolidation Program, and $60 million for a college scholarship fund for Native American youth.