The Biography of Elouise Cobell

The biography of Elouise Cobell, an activist, accountant, and entrepreneur who dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of Native American people.

She is famous for leading a landmark lawsuit against the United States government on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Native American landowners, resulting in a historic settlement worth over $3 billion.

This biography offers a glimpse into the life of Elouise Cobell.

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Early Life and Education of Elouise Cobell

Elouise Cobell was born on November 5, 1945, on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.

She grew up on the reservation, where her parents were ranchers, and attended a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school.

Cobell went on to earn a degree in business administration from Montana State University and became a certified public accountant.

Career as an Activist and Entrepreneur

Cobell began her career as an accountant and worked for several years as the treasurer of the Blackfeet tribe.

In 1987, she co-founded the Blackfeet National Bank, the first national bank owned by a Native American tribe.

She also founded the Native American Bank, now the only national bank owned by Native Americans.

In addition to her work in finance, Cobell was a fierce advocate for Native American rights.

She served on the board of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). This nonprofit organization provided legal assistance to Native American tribes and was a founding board member of the Native American Community Development Corporation.

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The Landmark Lawsuit

Cobell’s most significant achievement came as the lead plaintiff in Cobell v. Salazar, a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Native American landowners.

The lawsuit alleged that the U.S. government had mismanaged the Individual Indian Money (IIM) trust, established in 1887, to hold payments for leases, royalties, and other income from Native American-owned land.

For over a century, the U.S. government had failed to keep accurate records of the trust, resulting in billions of dollars in unaccounted-for funds.

The lawsuit sought an accounting of the trust and compensation for the losses suffered by the Native American landowners.

The case dragged on for over a decade, with the government fighting every step of the way.

Cobell became the public face of the lawsuit, tirelessly advocating for justice for the Native American landowners.

She testified before Congress, organized rallies and protests, and traveled the country to raise case awareness.

In 2009, after years of legal battles and negotiations, the U.S. government agreed to a settlement worth $3.4 billion.

It was the largest settlement in U.S. history involving Native American land rights, and Cobell was hailed as a hero for her tireless advocacy.

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Legacy and Recognition of Elouise Cobell

Cobell passed away on October 16, 2011, at 65, just a few months after the settlement was finalized.

Her legacy, however, lives on. The Cobell Scholarship Fund, established in 2013, provides financial assistance to Native American students pursuing higher education.

The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute, founded in 2018, supports research and education related to land and culture in Native American communities.

Cobell’s work and achievements have received positive recognition. In 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020, recognizing her as a trailblazer who fought tirelessly for justice and equality for Native Americans.

Elouise Cobell was a trailblazer, a fighter, and a hero. Her tireless advocacy for the rights of Native American landowners led to a historic settlement that will have a lasting impact on Native American communities.


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