Native land, culture institute to honor Elouise Cobell

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Fredricka Hunter, director of American Indian Student Services at the University of Montana, gives Terry Payne a gift of two Pendleton sashes at an event on Wednesday announcing a new teaching and research facility at UM’s Payne Family Native American Center. (Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian)

Fredricka Hunter, director of American Indian Student Services at the University of Montana, gives Terry Payne a gift of two Pendleton sashes at an event on Wednesday announcing a new teaching and research facility at UM’s Payne Family Native American Center. (Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian)

The Native champion who fought for years against the federal government to secure the historic Cobell land trust settlment is being honored with her own institute at the University of Montana.

The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute was dedicate in Missoula, Mont., Wednesday and will become a part of the Payne Family Native American Center on UM’s campus.

Missoulian reporter Kim Briggeman was at the dedication ceremony:

    Pending approval by the Montana Board of Regents in Helena this week, the Cobell Institute is envisioned to be a complex of labs, classrooms and a small theater in the unfinished lower level of the three-year-old Native American Center on the southwest edge of the UM Oval.

    University President Royce Engstrom announced creation of the institute Wednesday at a ceremony in the center’s Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place.

    “Her life’s work was the pursuit of justice and we here at the University of Montana are humbled that her family has permitted us to honor her,” he said.

    The institute, said Engstrom, can be a place “where future leaders will meet the challenges around land and asset management as well as understand worldwide cultures of indigenous people.”

Cobell died in 2011 after battling cancer. The Cobell settlement was approved by federal court in 2011 and payments began being distributed in Decemeber 2012.

    (Inside the institute, a) land lab will allow students to work on intensive mapping projects.

    “When you think about mapping in Indian Country, it’s really complex because reservation land has all different kinds of overlapping ownership, from trust land to tribally controlled land to individual fee patent land,” said Dave Beck, who chairs the Department of Native American Studies.

    A sophisticated GIS-centered lab will allow the overlay of historic maps to map landownership patterns with natural and cultural resources. An upstairs room in the Native American Center is dedicated to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation, which does similar work.

    The Minnesota-based foundation has been very encouraging of the Cobell Institute project.

    “They’ve basically said if you build this we’ll work with you to help students identify and get into real-world projects for Native communities,” said Comer. “We’re really excited by the prospect of working with groups like that.

    “We don’t want busywork exercise. That’s really Royce’s vision: When they’re working on classroom projects, those projects will produce something that’s helping a community and making a real difference.”

Jenna Cederberg

Here’s a noticed the “Cobell/Indian Trust Settlement Fund” sent out Thursday via Bill McAllister:

The $3.4 billion Cobell v. Salazar settlement is approved and payments to Class Members have begun.The Settlement resolves a class action lawsuit that claims that the federal government violated its duties by mismanaging trust accounts and individual Indian trust lands.

Payments of $1,000 to the Historical Accounting Class are underway.The Historical Accounting Class includes individual Indians who were alive on September 30, 2009, and who had an open IIM account anytime between October 25, 1994, and September 30, 2009, with at least one cash transaction in it.The process of considering claims for the Trust Administration Class is ongoing.

The final deadline for Class Members to file a claim form for the Trust Administration Class is March 1, 2013.

The Trust Administration Class includes individual Indians alive on September 30, 2009, who either had an IIM account recorded in currently available electronic data in federal government systems anytime from January 1, 1985 to September 30, 2009, orcan demonstrate ownership in land held in trust or restricted status as of September 30, 2009.

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First Cobell payments likely to be sent out within month

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The first payments from the landmark Cobell land trust misuse settlement will soon be distributed to an estimated 350,000 Natives around the country.

    Approximately 350,000 beneficiaries could start receiving $1,000 checks by Christmas as the first part of the settlement goes forward, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

    . . .

    The agreement will pay out $1.5 billion to two classes of beneficiaries. Each member of the first class would be paid $1,000. Each member of the second class would be paid $800 plus a share of the balance of the settlement funds as calculated by a formula based on the activity in their trust accounts.

Nearly 12,000 Alaska Natives are elligible to receive payments, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

    However, payments to most Alaska Natives would not be based on an accounting of such royalties. Rather, most payments in Alaska would be “basic allocations” of $500 each in exchange for dropping any potential claims against the federal government, according to officials who described the settlement to Congress in 2009.

    A Department of the Interior official testified then that 5,365 Alaska Natives were included in the case.

    Attorneys representing the plaintiffs estimated the number could be 12,000 or more. Many Alaska Natives obtained land individually under the 1906 Native Allotment Act, but decisions about the land remained subject to Interior Department approval. The act gave each adult Native head-of-household the right to apply for up to 160 acres of “non-mineral land” until 1971, when Congress ended the program with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Elouise Cobell fought for 17 years for the settlement before she died of cancer last year.

    The Blackfeet leader observed that those who leased Indian land made money from its natural resources, while the Indians themselves remained in poverty with no accounting of the royalties from that land that were held in trust for them by the government.

    . . .

    “We all are happy that this settlement can finally be implemented,” lead attorney Dennis Gingold said in a statement Monday. “We deeply regret that Ms. Cobell did not live to see this day.”

Jenna Cederberg


Cobell settlement upheld after objection dismissed

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The Cobell land trust settlement has been upheld in the courts once again. The panel of appellate judges decision announced Tuesday means settlement checks for the landmark $3.4 billion lawsuit could be sent out within weeks:

Here’s Associated Press report Matt Volz’s story:

    A panel of appellate judges on Tuesday upheld a $3.4 billion settlement between the U.S. government and hundreds of thousands of Native American plaintiffs whose land trust royalties were mismanaged by the Interior Department.

    The ruling means that settlement checks could be mailed to members of the class-action lawsuit within weeks, said plaintiffs’ attorney Dennis Gingold. Further appeals would delay that disbursement, and the attorney for the challenger, Kimberly Craven of Boulder, Colo., said they are considering their options.

    The three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the challenge by Craven, who had objected that the settlement did not include an actual accounting for how much money the government lost and said that the deal would overcompensate a select few beneficiaries.

    But the judges said in their ruling that the government would be unable to perform an accurate accounting, the deal is fair and it is the best that can be hoped for to avoid years of additional litigation.

    Craven’s characterization of the settlement as taking shortcuts “is to ignore the history of this hard-fought litigation and the obstacles to producing an historical accounting,” the judges said in their ruling.

    The settlement is the result of a class-action lawsuit filed in 1996 by Blackfeet tribal member Elouise Cobell, who died of cancer in October. The lawsuit had originally sought to find out how much money had been mismanaged, squandered or lost by the Department of the Interior, which held the trust money for land allotted to Native Americans under the Dawes Act of 1887.

    “Our deepest regret is that Ms Cobell did not live long enough to see this victory,” Gingold said in a statement
    The lack of records created a problem in creating an accurate accounting of who was owed what, and the cost of creating such a record for each beneficiary would have cost more than what they were actually owed. After more than 13 years of litigation, the government and Cobell made a deal.

    The agreement would pay out $1.5 billion to two classes of beneficiaries whose numbers have been estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000. Each member of the first class would be paid $1,000. Each member of the second class would be paid $800 plus a share of the balance of the settlement funds as calculated by a formula.

    Another $1.9 billion would be used by the government to purchase fractionated land allotments from willing individuals and turn those consolidated allotments over to the tribe. An education scholarship for young Indians also would be established under the agreement.

    Congress approved the deal in December 2010 and U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan approved it after a June 2011 hearing. Hogan said that while the settlement may not be as much as some wished, the deal provides a way out of a legal morass and provides some certainty for the beneficiaries.

    As part of the deal, Cobell was awarded $2 million and the three other named plaintiffs were awarded between $150,000 and $200,000.

    Craven and others objected and appealed the settlement, claiming the deal creates a conflict between the beneficiaries as some would be overpaid while others would be undercompensated for their claims. Creating a lump-sum award without an accounting creates an arbitrary payout system without knowing who is actually owed what, she argued.

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Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT, announced last week he has nominated Elouise Cobell for the national Citizen Service Before Self award given to three people each year.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff on the groundbreaking land trust misuse settlement approved late in 2011 by the federal government after almost 16 years of fighting by Cobell and her attorneys.

The historic settlement calls for $3.4 billion to be distributed to qualified plaintiffs and to buy back a patchwork of trust land but payouts from the settlements have been held up recently.

Tester sent this opinion piece with the announcement:

    Every year, only three Americans are honored with the Citizen Service Before Self award—one of the most prestigious honors awarded by our nation. This year, I nominated my friend Elouise Cobell to be one of them.

    Elouise pursued justice and fairness for all Indian people until she passed away last fall.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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Reserve votes to allow eviction of gang members

A CTV News report from Alberta, Canada (see the full video report here) details a new bylaw OK’d by voters there that would allow tribal officials to remove gang members from the reserve.

The Samson Cree Nation is a violence-plagued reserve, CTV reports.

    The band agreed to take the issue to a vote after the July death of the chief’s five-year-old grandson in a drive-by shooting, as well as ongoing gang violence.

    There are believed to be about 12 gangs in the four First Nations communities in the Hobbema area.

    “It is considered necessary for the health and welfare of the Samson Cree Nation to regulate the residence of its citizens and other persons on the reserve,” states the bylaw, which also includes a provision requiring prospective new residents to apply to a residency tribunal before moving in.

SBA introduces new course for Indian entrepreneurs
In a press release this week, the U.S. Small Business Administration announced a new program aimed at helping entrepreneurs in Indian Country get their business dreams off the ground and into action.

Native American Small Business Primer: Strategies for Success” is a free, self-paced online business course developed for Native American business owners.

    The new online course: emphasizes business planning and market research as essential steps to take before going into business; informs Native American entrepreneurs about the legal aspects of starting a business, including the type of ownership (legal structure) and licensing; and provides key information on seed money for starting up, raising capital, and borrowing money. In addition, there is a section on how to estimate business start-up costs that can help assess the financial needs of going into business.

Craven appeal of Cobell moves forward
ICTMN’s Rob Capriccioso has the latest on an appeal to the historic Cobell land trust settlement given final approval by the courts last year.

The settlement terms have irked some, such as Kimberly Craven, Capriccioso reports. Craven filed an appeal to the settlement in September and has continued to file documents with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as objections to her appeals have filed in. The appeals will most likely delay settlement payments to thousands.

    Of note, Craven labels the proposed distribution of the settlement as “upside-down” in that “greatest alleged injuries” would receive “the least amount of money.” The brief also states, “[c]lass members with no hope of recovery have an interest in a settlement that wildly overcompensates them at the expense of class members who do have legitimate claim.”

    Cobell lawyers have previously argued that Craven is speculating that class members suffered different types of individualized damages.

Jenna Cederberg

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Elouise Cobell was laid to rest this weekend in Browning. The Missoulian’s Gwen Florio covered the events (that include a procession of cars all blasting Elvis songs) that honored the activist, who died last week at the age of 65.

Mandi Bird Kennerly says a prayer at the casket of Elouise Cobell on Friday evening during a viewing and rosary service at the Browning High School. Kennerly is a great niece by marriage to Cobell. (Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian)

Here’s Florio’s stories:

Friends, family and admirers pay respects to Elouise Cobell in Browning

BROWNING – They came from the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, from the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, from the Seminole Tribe in Florida.

From across Indian Country, Native American people gathered Saturday on the Blackfeet Nation to honor Elouise Cobell, who fought the U.S. government to a standstill on their behalf. She died last Sunday, of cancer, at age 65.

Cobell changed “the dark side of American history,” said Dennis Gingold, an attorney who worked with her on the landmark Cobell v. Salazar class-action settlement that directs $3.4 billion to Indian people.

Read the rest of the story.

Elouise Cobell’s love of Elvis on display at memorial

BROWNING – Elouise Cobell has left the building.

She met many important people in her 65 years, presidents and movie stars, members of Congress and of course the Native American elders on whose behalf she successfully stared down the U.S. government.

At her viewing Friday evening, people talked of her courage and Read the rest of this entry »


Elouise Cobell: ‘A Warrior Woman’ died too soon

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The loss of Elouise Cobell, who died Sunday at the age of 65, continues to resonate across the country today, as her family announced she would be laid to rest Saturday at her family’s ranch out side Browning, Mont., after a funeral at Browning High School. Tributes poured in Monday and into Tuesday, as the country remembered Cobell and her 16 year fight to bring justice to the Indian people swindled out of billions of dollars in trust land royalty payments.

Jodi Rave shared her experiences interviewing and knowing the “Woman Warrior” that was Cobell in the Monday post on her blog Buffalo’s Fire. “Indian Country just lost one its greatest female warriors,” Rave writes.

To view the tributes from public officials from around Montana and the country, visit Indianz.com. You can send your own condolences and remembrances of Cobell to inRemembranceofElouise@gcginc.com .

Another story explains the unfairness of the timing for many Indian people who didn’t live to see a penny of the settlement money they were entitled to. Gwen Florio, of the Missoulian, has the story on another in Cobell’s family who lost his battle to cancer Sunday:

Cobell, relative died on same day, neither seeing restitution

    Condolences from around the nation poured into Montana Monday following the death of Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who devoted the final 15 years of her life to recovering billions of dollars bilked from Indian people by the federal government.

    On the Blackfeet Reservation, they also mourned James Mad Dog Kennerly.
    Like Cobell, Kennerly succumbed on Sunday to cancer. The two were related by marriage.

    And like Cobell, Kennerly never saw any of the money due him from the historic $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement for which Cobell fought so hard.

    “That’s what’s so sad about all of this,” Cobell’s sister Julene Kennerly said Monday. “Neither of them will get to see the end.”

    The settlement, announced in 2009 and approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, faces an appeal that could stall payments for years.

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Nation mourns passing of Elouise Cobell

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Elouise Cobell died Sunday at the age of 65. (Associated Press)

Elouise Cobell, the activist accountant from Browning who initiated the historic Indian land trust abuse lawsuit settlement approved this year has died. She was 65 and had recently had surgery to combat an undisclosed type of cancer.

The historic, 15-year $3.4 billion settlement Cobell championed was approved late this summer. Words aren’t enough to express the symbol of strength she became for many. Nonetheless, the tributes came aplenty, spreading across the Internet Monday.

Here is reporter Gwen Florio’s tribute in Monday’s Missoulian:

    Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman from Browning who won a historic $3.4 billion settlement for Indian people cheated by the federal government, died Sunday night at Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls. She was 65.

    “A great woman and a Blackfeet warrior,” state Rep. Shannon Augare, a family friend, called her Sunday. “She was a saint.”

    Cobell had surgery in April at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for what she described then as “a serious cancer.” She gave no further details at the time.

    For 15 years, Cobell pursued a case on behalf of more than 500,000 Indian people due royalties from the federal government dating back a century for the use of their lands. In 2009, the federal government settled for more than $3.4 billion, one of the largest class-action settlements in the country’s history.

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Allottee decries challenges to Cobell

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The historic Cobell v. Salazar settlement reached this year and approved by a judge in July has hit another snag, as four different appeals have been filed appeal it.

As the Navajo Times reports, the new road block prompted Shi Shi Keyah President Ervin Chavez to shake his head.

    “I don’t understand why these people didn’t opt out of the case when they had the chance,” said Ervin Chavez, president of Shi Shi Keyah, speaking of the appellants.

    According to attorneys for Elouise Cobell, trying the appeals could postpone the distribution of the settlement for a year or more – an outcome Chavez says is simply not acceptable considering all the beneficiaries who have died waiting for the landmark case to slog its way through the court system for the last 15 years.

Cobell’s 15-year fight to correct the federal government’s mismanagement of Indian trust land was settled fro $3.4 billion dollars. Three individuals and a group, Harvest Institute Freedmen Federation, are appealing the settlement.

    Cobell’s attorneys have asked the court to require each appellant to put up an $8.3 million bond to cover the costs associated with the appeals – a move that Craven’s attorney called a thinly disguised effort to squelch the appeals process.

    Chavez says he agrees with Cobell’s attorneys that the vast majority of the plaintiff class supports the settlement.

    “True, as Elouise Cobell stated, that this is not a perfect settlement,” Chavez wrote in an e-mail to the Times, “but this is most likely the best settlement that would be realized especially in the state of our economy.”

Jenna Cederberg