Elouise Cobell nominated for Medal of Freedom

Great Falls Tribune

by David Murray

Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet social activist who led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans across the United States, has been posthumously nominated to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Montana Sen.r Jon Tester announced his nomination of Cobell during a signing ceremony Tuesday in Browning, where U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell formalized the allocation of $107 million to buy back fractionalized lands within the Blackfeet Reservation.

The buy-back program is a direct result of Cobell’s 14-year battle to force the federal government to account for generations of exploitation and mismanagement of tribal lands throughout the U.S. In 2012, President Obama signed into law a $1.9 billion settlement compensating tribes for the Interior Department’s failure to collect or disburse billions of dollars of revenues generated by mining, oil and gas development, timber harvesting and grazing on Indian Reservations throughout the United States.

Cobell died of cancer in 2011; too soon to see her own Blackfeet people receive the compensation she’d fought for so long.

“She reminds us that anybody can rise up and make their voices heard,” Tester said of Cobell. “To ensure that her legacy lives on and she receives the recognition she deserves, I am nominating Elouise Cobell for the Presidential Medal of Freedom; the highest civilian award that can be presented.

According to the White House, the Presidential Medal of Freedom may be presented “to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”