Montana State University

Elouise Cobell legacy discussed during film, panel Oct. 12 at MSU

October 5, 2017 -- Kristin Ruppel 406-994-5261,

The legacy of the late Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet leader whose lengthy legal battle with the U.S. government successfully challenged Native American land trust payments, will be the subject of a film screening and panel discussion set Oct. 12 at MSU. The event is part of MSU’s Indigenous Peoples Day activities. Photo by Kelly Gorham for MSU’s Mountains and Minds magazine.

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The legacy of the late Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet leader whose lengthy legal battle with the U.S. government resulted in a landmark settlement for more than half a million Native Americans, will be the subject of a film screening and panel discussion at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, in the Hager Auditorium at the Museum of the Rockies. The event, which is free and open to the public, is part of Montana State University’s week of activities recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day from Oct. 9 to 13.

Cobell is the subject of “100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice,” a film by Melinda Janko. Cobell, who died in 2011, was a banker and rancher who attended MSU. The former treasurer for her tribe, she was a founder of the Native American Bank and was a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant for her work in Native financial literacy. In 1996, Cobell began legal action against the U.S. Government, alleging mismanagement of trust funds belonging to more than half a million Native Americans. Her groundbreaking class-action suit, Cobell v. Salazar, was settled in 2010 when the government approved a $3.4 billion settlement for the trust case, the largest settlement in a class-action suit against the federal government. In 2016, Cobell received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Following the screening will be a panel discussion on Cobell’s many legacies. Members of the Amskapi Pikuni (Blackfeet Nation) who will discuss Cobell’s vision and impact on their work include: Terry Tatsey, vice chairman of the Blackfeet Nation; Loren BirdRattler, project manager of the Blackfeet Agricultural Resource Management Plan; Helen Augare-Carlson, Native Science Field Center director at Blackfeet Community College; and Mark Magee, Land Department director and board chairman for the Blackfeet Indian Land Trust. A reception is set from 6 to 6:30 p.m., preceding the screening of the film.

Kristin Ruppel, professor in MSU’s Department of Native American Studies, said specific examples of Cobell’s rich legacy include the Cobell Settlement itself, under which Congress established the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund in her honor, offering higher education opportunities to Native American students at MSU and around the country. As a founding member of the public nonprofit Blackfeet Indian Land Trust — the first Native American land trust in the nation — Cobell also helped to inspire conservation efforts on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that would encompass the 1,160-acre Flat Iron Creek Ranch and would eventually be renamed the Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary, Cobell’s Blackfeet name, in her honor.

“We invite the community to join us for a reception, film screening and discussion panel highlighting the many legacies of this remarkable woman in education, community building, finance and environmental conservation,” Ruppel said.

For more information about MSU’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day, see

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