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  • Writer's pictureRachel Red-Horse

Elousie Cobell "Yellow Bird Woman"

Elouise Cobell “Yellow Bird Woman” was born in 1945 on the Blackfoot reservation in Montana. Elouise grew up hearing of the misdeeds by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), especially refusal of funds for tribal members. She studied accounting at Great Falls Community College and business at the University of Montana while interning at the BIA office, while working there she watched people routinely get turned away when asking for their trust money. She became the treasurer for Blackfoot Nation after graduation and started looking into the numbers noticing there were discrepancies. Upon attending governmental meetings and asking questions she was dismissed and told she didn't understand the statements she was looking at.

When the only bank on Blackfoot land closed and no other bank would open, Cobell founded the Blackfeet National Bank, now the Native American Bank. This led to her being awarded a genius grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, she donated a portion of this grant to fund the lawsuit she would bring against the Department of Interior.

On June 10, 1996 Cobell, in partnership with the Native American Civil Rights Fund, filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Interior for mismanaging Indian trust funds of over 300,000 tribal members. After 13 years the United States government was held liable for a 3.4 billion dollar settlement which was approved in June 2011.

Elouise died in 2011 from cancer but her legacy has not been forgotten. To learn more of her story watch the movie, “100 Years” or do a quick internet search.

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