Elouise Cobell To Receive Presidential Medal Of Freedom -Terry Payne Remembers Elouise Cobell
On Thursday, it was announced that Blackfeet tribal community leader Elouise Cobell will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on November 22.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the country.
In 2014, the Payne Family Native American Center on the University of Montana campus dedicated the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute. Terry Payne, for whose family the Native American Center is named, shared some of his memories of Elouise Cobell with KGVO News.
"I'm thrilled that Elouise if finally being recognized at the highest level that is awarded to a civilian," Payne said. "I saw Turk, her son, about a week or two ago and was just delighted with the recognition that she's receiving in the memory of all of her fine work."
In 1985, Blackfeet tribal leader Eloise Cobell brought a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming that the Interior Department obtained royalties worth billions of dollars that legally belonged to Indian tribal members across the country. In 2010, the lawsuit was settled for $3.4 billion, however Cobell died before the first payments could be distributed to tribal members.
Payne remembered when Cobell attended the dedication of the Native American Center on the UM campus.
"Elouise was certainly a champion of Native American rights, and was a speaker at our dedication ceremony," he said. "It was after her passing that we dedicated and completed the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute that is located on the garden level of the Native American Center, and that was dedicated just last year."
Payne said it was Cobell's energy and tenacity that saw the decades-long lawsuit come to fruition.
"Elouise, of course, had support from many, but she clearly was the leader and clearly drove the battle to its ultimate victory," he said. "She had such remarkable tenacity and all the while she was engaged in other activities on the Blackfeet Reservation, and even through all these struggles, she donated a kidney to her husband. She was a remarkable woman, and I've never met anybody like her. I admired her tremendously."