Native leader fought long and hard to get favorable settlement
By Forrest J. Gerard
Former Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs
October 22, 2011,
The Cobell Family, the Blackfeet tribe and Indian country has lost a tireless and intelligent leader in Elouise Cobell, who died Sunday in Great Falls, Mont. Her perseverance contributed $3.4 billion in the congressional settlement of Cobell v. Salazar. Her nonmonetary contributions are immeasurable.
When Cobell v. Salazar reached the political congressional arena, Elouise adroitly recognized the political axiom that “Politics is the art of compromise.” And while many affected Indians considered the so-called settlement as a mere pittance for the government’s mismanagement of their land asset, Elouise recognized that if the affected Indians were to receive any settlement at all, it would be necessary to accept a compromise award.
She displayed mature leadership under these circumstances and fought hard for the compromise settlement. She fully understood that the compromise settlement would be controversial. However, she soldiered on as a leader and traveled extensively in Indian country to meet with the affected parties to try and help them understand why the actual settlement did not reach the level of what they believed would be fair.
Later she spent long, arduous hours lobbying members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate to support the compromise settlement and to enact appropriate legislation to make it the law of the land. Her efforts ultimately led to the enactment of Public Law 111-291.
Elouise’s roots were solidly in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where she was born and raised. Early on, she brought accounting and business expertise to work for the tribal governing body, where she observed firsthand the federal government’s failure to uphold its trust responsibility to the Indians that called for the protection of their land assets and to secure appropriate compensation when these valuable land assets were utilized by other parties.
It was this knowledge that influenced Elouise to assume the leadership role she assumed in an effort to correct these wrongdoings and to bring an acceptable level of justice to Indian people.
Her family shared the many sacrifices made by Elouise in pursuit of justice for Indian country. The entire family should also share our collective gratitude for her undeniable determination to correct the historical financial wrongs that were inflicted on many Native Americans.
Forrest J. Gerard is a member of the Blackfeet tribe.