WASHINGTON - Montana Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today introduced legislation to award Montana's Elouise Cobell the Congressional Gold Medal.
Cobell, a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, is being recognized for ‘her outstanding and enduring contributions to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and the Nation through her tireless pursuit of justice.'
In 1996, Cobell filed an historic lawsuit alleging that the federal government mismanaged trust funds belonging to more than 500,000 individual American Indians. Congress agreed to a $3.4 billion settlement in December of 2010.
"Hundreds of thousands of American Indians will benefit due to Elouise's dedication to justice, fairness and the trust responsibility of the U.S. government," said Tester, a longtime friend of Cobell's and a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. "Elouise refused to take no for an answer and her tireless pursuit represents the standard by which we should award historic honors like the Congressional Gold Medal."
"Elouise's hard work on behalf of not only Montana's tribes, but for American Indians everywhere deserves thanks and the highest recognition available. It's been an honor to work with her over the years and I applaud her hard-fought efforts to reform the way the federal government handles its responsibilities to Native Americans. Generations to come will benefit because Elouise stood up and demanded a better future for American Indians."
While Treasurer of the Blackfeet Tribe in the 1980s, Cobell discovered many irregularities in the handling of funds held in trust by the United States on behalf of the Blackfeet and individual Indians. Before filing her lawsuit in 1996, she sought reform in Washington, DC, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s without success.
Cobell, a tireless advocate for Indian youth education, is also creating a scholarship fund that will help young Montanans access higher education.
The Congressional Gold Medal is often considered the most distinguished form of recognition that Congress bestows. Congress has awarded the medal to a broad range Americans including explorers, scientists, and humanitarians.