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Leader in Indian trust lawsuit dies

Elouise Cobell fought the federal government for 15 years over the mismanagement of individual Indian trust accounts. The settlement will affect an estimated 50,000 Indians in Oklahoma.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL ccasteel@opubco.com Published: October 18, 2011
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— Elouise Cobell, who led a 15-year fight to clean up the federal government's management of individual Indian trust accounts, died Sunday in Montana, just four months after a $3.4 billion settlement in the class-action case that bore her name won court approval. She was 65 and had cancer.

Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, was praised Monday by President Barack Obama and leaders of the department in charge of the trust accounts, which date back more than a century to Indian land allotments.

“Elouise spoke out when she saw that the Interior Department had failed to account for billions of dollars that they were supposed to collect on behalf of more than 300,000 of her fellow Native Americans,” Obama said.

“Because she did, I was able to sign into law a piece of legislation that finally provided a measure of justice to those who were affected.”

It was the largest class-action settlement against the federal government in U.S. history. It will affect an estimated 50,000 Indians in Oklahoma. Interior Department officials were in Oklahoma City last week to discuss one aspect of the settlement.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Cobell “sought justice to address historical wrongs that had weighed on our nation's conscience and was a significant force for change.”

Cobell was the lead plaintiff and the public face of the lawsuit filed against the government in 1996 to force an overhaul of the system set up to protect the assets of individual Indians who held land in trust and made money from leasing or selling it.

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