Cobell Lawsuit & Settlement | Opinion

Walt Lamar: Say thanks to Elouise Cobell for stepping up for us

The late Elouise Cobell meets President Barack Obama at the White House. December 8, 2010. Official Photo by Pete Souza

Walt Lamar thanks the late Elouise Cobell for holding the federal government accountable for the mismanagement of Indian trust funds:
Before the money is spent we should pause for a moment to remind ourselves of who we should thank for our windfalls, large and small, or none at all. In the mid-80s Elouise Cobell saw a pattern of federal government wrongs and decided to step forward to do something about it. Her effort resulted in a 1996 class-action suit challenging the federal government.

We always have the choice to do something or do nothing, and doing nothing typically offers far less risk. Elouise knew early on that stepping forward to expose decades of the federal government's gross mismanagement of our precious resources was going to take a personal toll, but she courageously pressed on. As the years went by, she was more vigorously attacked and still she continued the fight. Unfailingly there are unintended consequences of action and the more monumental the action the greater risk of unintended consequences, and this was, indeed, a monumental feat.

The government fought to mitigate their devious behavior while the plaintiff's attorneys fought to demonstrate the true scope of the damage done. In the end, both sides won some courtroom battles, but at the end of the day the class-action attorneys demonstrated without question that the government willfully pillaged the coffers of Indian country.

Many found something to worry about as the process unfolded— how much attorneys were being paid, how much Elouise was entitled to, checks that might be too small or take too long to arrive, the Whereabouts Unknown being left out, a relative might get more than me, I might not get anything, and on, and on. Despite our concerns, right or wrong; hundreds of thousands have received checks, tens of thousands will be educated into the future, many tribes' land base will be strengthened, and we have the satisfaction of exposing epic misdeeds, all because one determined woman made the choice to take courageous action.

Get the Story:
Walt Lamar: Say Thanks to Elouise Cobell (Indian Country Today 9/24)

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