Indian Country Today:

When news broke that Elouise Cobell, the embodiment of a 16-year battle with the United States government for Indian funds, died Sunday night, the outpouring of memories started to circulate.

Below are excerpts from some of the emails Indian Country Today Media Network received:

President Barack Obama

“Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of Elouise Cobell yesterday. 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. 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. That law also creates a scholarship fund to give more Native Americans access to higher education, and give tribes more control over their own lands. Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family, and all those who mourn her passing.”

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Elouise Cobell, a true champion for justice who improved the lives of American Indians across the country, including thousands in Nevada. Elouise was an extraordinary American who made countless contributions to our country, which is why I believe she deserves the highest honor Congress can bestow upon a civilian. Indian country – and the entire country – has lost an inspiring leader.”

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of Elouise Cobell, who dedicated her life to the betterment of Indian people. She sought justice to address historical wrongs that had weighed on our nation’s conscience and was a significant force for change.

“I was honored to work personally with Elouise to reach a settlement that fairly and honorably resolves the long-standing Cobell litigation. Thanks to Elouise’s leadership and unwavering focus over many years, we passed the Claims Resolution Act in 2010 and President Obama has signed it into law. For this monumental achievement, and for the attention she brought to the need for a just resolution, Elouise is a hero in every sense of the word.

“As we pause to reflect on Elouise’s life and achievements, let us be inspired to do better by the first Americans, and to uphold our nation’s promise of justice and opportunity for all.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the House
Natural Resources Committee

“In Indian Country, Elouise Cobell is synonymous with justice, and for the last two decades her life was dedicated to that cause. Through persistent, consistent pressure, Ms. Cobell righted century-old wrongs, and forever changed the landscape of the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities to Native Americans.”

Congressman Dale E. Kildee (D-MI), Democratic Chairman
of the House Native American Caucus

“The passing of Elouise Cobell is a great loss for the Blackfeet Nation, Native Americans and our country as a whole. Elouise was the representation of courage, fearlessly taking on the United States government for the historic mismanagement of Indian trust assets. For fifteen long years Elouise fought to settle the Cobell litigation, finally achieving some justice for the Indian people with the largest government class-action settlement in history. This historic achievement helped turn the page on a sad chapter of federal-Native American relations.”

Larry Echo Hawk, Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs

“Indian country, as well as the entire nation, has lost a champion of human rights. Elouise Cobell battled to make our country acknowledge historical wrongdoing, and she spoke truth to power so that justice could prevail.

“She was tireless in her efforts to reach a respectable resolution to the long-standing Cobelllitigation. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010, signed into law by President Obama, will forever remain a testament to her colossal feat. Through her legacy, individual Indians will have more control over their lands and many American Indian and Alaska Natives will be able to pursue higher education through the scholarship component of the settlement.

“As we take a moment to reflect upon the life of Elouise Cobell, I think of how she embodies what our nation is all about—the quest for justice and opportunity for all. She will be sorely missed but never forgotten for her strength and courage. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her entire family and the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana.”

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee

“Elouise Cobell never stopped fighting for the rights of Native Americans, no matter the roadblocks or red tape that was put in her path. When I met with her last year, she showed the kind of persistence and determination that allowed her to keep fighting for the rights of Indian country for more than a decade. Our nation has lost a true fighter, and my condolences are with her friends and family during this difficult time.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

“Cobell fought for many who could not fight for themselves and she brought a voice to many who died before being able to see justice served. May we never forget Elouise’s long battle to right this wrong. May Elouise’s memory continue to inspire everyone who believes that justice is worth the fight. And, may the Creator welcome Elouise home with joy and tenderness as we offer our thoughts and prayers to her loved ones.”

Jefferson Keel, president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)

“Elouise Cobell represented the indelible will and strength of Indian country and her influence and energy will be greatly missed. Her passing on from this world must be honored by reaffirming our resolute commitment as Indigenous Peoples to protect the rights of our citizens and our sovereign nations.

“NCAI joins all who mourn the loss of this great individual. She committed her life to strengthening Indian country and she contributed greatly.”

Native Action Network, Co-founded by former Sen. Claudia Kauffman (D-Wash.)

“Native Action Network joins the country as we mourn the loss of an extraordinary and inspiring leader in Indian Country, Elouise Cobell. A tireless advocate for justice, Elouise dedicated her life to serving her community, her Tribe, and her nation. Her efforts to seek justice and truth in the federal land trust settlement resulted in a landmark case that has been praised by our nation’s highest officials.

“Just last month, Native Action Network presented the prestigious Sister Spirit Award to Elouise Cobell. This award was created in 2006 to recognize women forging new paths and new directions for Native People. To date, only three women have received this Sister Spirit Award.”

Keith Haper, a lawyer on Cobell’s team

“Elouise was, in a word, remarkable, as were her contributions and unfailing courage. She was the source of strength for the Cobell case and the reason why justice was finally obtained for half a million Native people in the form of the largest settlement of any suit against the United States in history. With any moment of progressive social change, there is always an iconic figure who will define that movement—the person who refused to get to the back of the bus. For Indian people, for this importance cause, for this indelible change, that person was Elouise Cobell. I will miss her deeply.”

Jackie Trotchie, a friend of Cobell’s and Indian advocate in Montana

“Elouise will always be remembered by me as a woman who fought the battle many of us didn’t know how to fight, and she did it with integrity despite the bullets to her chest and the arrows in her back. She will be remembered as the one and only modern-day female warrior who honored all those individual land owners who passed before her.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mon.)

“Elouise Cobell was a star—truly a guiding light that will always lead the way for all Americans who fight for justice and fairness. Elouise’s tireless leadership set this nation on a new course, and what she accomplished reminds us that any person in any part of this country has the power to stand up and right a wrong, no matter how difficult it may be… Future generations will learn about Elouise Cobell’s legacy and they will be inspired to follow her lead. She will always be remembered as an American hero.”

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan as reported in the Billings Gazette

“It’s a cruel irony that the woman who led the charge here all of those years, does not live now to see the benefits,” Dorgan said. “Despite that, I know she had to feel a great sense of accomplishment with what she did.”

Cheryl Causley, chairwoman National American Indian Housing Council

“On behalf of NAIHC, I extend my condolences to the Blackfeet Nation and the family of renowned Indian country advocate Ms. Elouise Cobell during this time of mourning. We have truly lost a strong, brave and passionate Indian leader. It is a sad day for Indian country indeed. We lost a true advocate and notable example for all native women. May the Great Spirit be with Ms. Cobell’s family and may her work and legacy live through those who carry on her mission and vision.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R)

“As Jan and I join Montanans who grieve the loss of Elouise Cobell, we can’t help but remember the incredible things she accomplished with her life. Like anyone who had the honor to work side by side with Elouise in the pursuit of justice, I will never forget her determination to do the right thing. Her efforts are an inspiration for generations of Montanans to come.”

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D)

“Elouise Cobell was an extraordinary Montana leader who had the fortitude to challenge an injustice that started more than one hundred years ago. Nancy and I are praying for her family and friends during this difficult time. The Blackfeet Nation and all of Montana have lost a true inspiration and hero.”