By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A Blackfeet woman responsible for a successful 14-year legal battle with the federal government that resulted in a resolution to the decades-long Indian Trust Account claims debacle will now receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The late Elouise Cobell, who passed away in 2011, will be bestowed the honor posthumously by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 22.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor – it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better,” President Obama said in a statement on Wednesday, Nov. 16 – the day the awardees list was released. “From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
Along with Cobell, the following will be honored: Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Richard Garwin, Bill and Melinda Gates, Frank Gehry, Margaret H. Hamilton, Tom Hanks, Grace Hopper, Michael Jordan, Maya Lin, Lorne Michaels, Newt Minow, Eduardo Padron, Robert Redford, Diana Ross, Vin Scully, Bruce Springsteen, and Cicely Tyson.
Turk Cobell, son of Elouise, released a statement from the family, “I am grateful to President Obama for including my mother among those chosen for this great honor. If she were alive, I know she would say this is not an award just for me, but for all Native people. She also would point out that without the support of the many thousands of people whose lands and money were mismanaged by the government, she could not have won her lawsuit.”
The family’s statement went on to say, “Her victory was truly a long and hard won struggle for those individuals and for her. Her honor today is another acknowledgement by the President she so admired that Native Americans are an essential part of the fabric of America. I know this day would have brought a wonderful smile to her face and a sparkle to her eyes.”
Elouise Cobell, the great-granddaughter of Mountain Chief, decided in 1996 that enough was enough and she was tired of not having a resolution to the Indian Trust Fund situation. On June 10 of that year, she filed a lawsuit (Cobell v. Salazar) against the federal government in the hopes of finding a solution and resolution. President Obama signed the Claims Resolution (aka Settlement Act of 2010) on Dec. 8, 2010 bringing the case to a close.
Under the settlement, $3.4 billion has been provided to settle trust fund accounts and land interests across Indian Country.