Native American Activist Who Sued Feds Dies

President Barack Obama meets with Elouise Cobell in the Oval Office, Dec. 8, 2010.
October 18, 2011

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Native American activist Elouise Cobell, who led a 15-year fight against the U.S. government, has died. She was 65.

Blackfeet tribal member Elousie Cobell forced Washington to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996. It claimed the U.S. Department of the Interior owed billions of dollars to as many as 500,000 Native Americans with land trust accounts. A $3.4 billion settlement was approved by President Obama in December 2009. Soon after, Cobell spoke on the Diane Riehm Show.

"It’s like riding into the calvary and coming out alive. It’s a great victory for individual Indians," Cobell said. "Maybe the money should have been a lot larger. Individual Indians are due a lot more money, but how long can we live?"

Cobell died before any of the settlement was distributed. But she had said that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

A spokesman for Cobell said she died Sunday in a Montana hospital of complications from cancer.

President Obama said in a statement: "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."