Monday, October 17, 2011

President Obama's Statement On The Passing Of Elouise Cobell

In a statement issued today mourning the passing of Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, President Obama hailed her for speaking out on behalf of Native Americans and strengthening "the government to government relationship with Indian Country." A resident of Browning, Montana, Cobell died on Sunday after a long illness.

For more than fifteen years, Cobell led a battle against the Department of the Interior to correct economic injustices against Native Americans. She was the lead plaintiff in the Cobell vs. Salazar class action lawsuit, which alleged that for more than a century, US officials systematically stole or squandered billions of dollars in royalties intended for American Indians in exchange for grazing lands, oil, gas, and other leases. The government offered a $3.4 billion settlement, signed into law by President Obama in December of 2010, and given final approval in June of 2011.

The President's full statement:

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.

The Cobell settlement...
$1.9 billion of the settlement was supposed to be used to buy back and consolidate Tribal lands that had become subdivided over the years. About 300,000 Indian account holders were meant to receive payments of at least $1,000 each from the government, as part of a $1.5 billion bloc in the settlement. Some were scheduled to receive more, including Cobell, who was due $2 million. An additional $60 million went to a scholarship fund for American Indian students.

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