Blackfeet 01

Production Date: 
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Establishing shot: Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet Tresurer, sitting in her tribal office speaking to a co-worker

Named locations: Browning, MT; Chewing Blackbones Campground

Major themes covered: The responsibilities of the Blackfeet Treasurer. The land use plans for the Blackfeet Reservation to promote economic development

Native activities shown: Toward the end of the film unknown individuals are looking at pictures on a projector depicting Pow-Wow dancers and various festivities, such as Rodeo bull-riding

Named Individuals: Elouise Cobell, Leo Kennerly Jr.

Native language spoken: none

Noteworthy elements: 

      Yellow Bird Woman was born November 5, 1945 on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana. Her English name was Elouise Pepion Cobell. She was an accountant and Treasurer for the Blackfeet Tribe for 13 years. During the making of this video she discusses her responsibilities as Treasurer for the Blackfeet Tribe.

       In 1996 she sued the U.S. Government Department of Interior for the mishandling of IIM (Individual Indian Money) Trust Accounts. Since the Dawes Act of 1887, Indian land has been held in Trust by the government, which was supposed to guarantee Indians the right to certain assets pertaining to their property. During Cobell’s term as Treasurer for the Blackfeet Tribal Council, she noticed that the accounts held in Trust were deeply neglected and had not been accounted for. In 2009, President Barack Obama ended the 13-year litigation for a settlement of $ 3.4 billion in favor of Cobell and teh Blackfeet Nation. This was a major feat for the Blackfeet Nation and for Native people nationwide.

        Elouise Cobell passed away on October 16, 2011. Among her other accomplishments, Cobell will be remembered for her participation in the establishment of the first tribal-owed bank, the Blackfeet National Bank (1987), her John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant (1997), the AARP Impact Award for making the World a better place, and the Woman of the Year Award granted at the Global Conference in Mexico City. Cobell received an MA from the Great Falls Business College, a PhD (honorary) from Montana State University and a PhD from Dartmouth College.

        Leo Kennerly Jr., was a democratic Montana legislator and held the position of Director of Planning for the Blackfeet Tribe in the 1970’s. In the film he discusses land use plans on the Blackfeet Reservation, including the development of Chewing Blackbones Campground, which during the making of this video had not opened yet, but was in development.

         Leo Kennerly Jr. was a major advocate in promoting economic development on the Blackfeet Reservation, and during his life time was the key element in developing Industrial Parks and Recreation grounds for the Blackfeet community. He also assisted reservation communities to invest in economic business development. Kennerly’s Indian name was Red Eagle, and Red Eagle Campground, at the former lower Two Medicine Lake, near Browning, Montana was subsequently named after him. Red Eagle’s sudden passing in 1980 was a devastating loss for the Blackfeet Nation, but his name lives on in the land development projects he helped build for his community, and for his efforts in developing economics within U.S. Indian Reservations. Among his other accomplishments include being granted the International Peace Pipe Award from the U.S. Office of Economic Development, and he was Economic Developer for the U.S. National Congress of American Indians.

Most of the information gathered on Leo Kennerly Jr., and some of the information gathered on Elouise Pepion Cobell, was shared byJulene Kennerly, his wife, who is also the sister of Elouise Cobell. Elouise Cobell and Leo Kennerly Jr. were in-laws.


Online resources

Blackfeet Tribal Government, traditional Blackfeet culture, and contemporary Blackfeet culture information.


Official Montana Government Office of Indian Affairs webpage.

Government Documents: The Dawes Act of 1887.

New York Times article, ‘Elouise Cbell, 65, dies; sued U.S. Government over Indian Trust funds.’

Brief biography on Elouise Cobell and other accomplished individuals in Montana State history.

Brief profile on Elouise Cobell from the Great Falls Tribune 125th Anniversary Feature.

The Spokesman-Review article, April 7, 1977: ‘Browning Legislator leads absentees.’ Regarding Leo Kennerly Jr.,2923772

Reznet News article, ‘Cobell settlement notifications begin; hundreds of thousands expected to benefit.’

The Spokes-man Review article, April 11, 1977: ‘Lawmaker’s absenteeism criticized by House leader.’ Regarding Leo Kennerly Jr.,4662217

Louise Cobell Obituaries


Web video resources

‘Truth to Power.’ Elouise Cobell gives speech at The National Rural Assembly. Time = 00:09:29

‘Elouise Cobell Keynote Address.’ Cobell is interviewed at Dartmouth College, in a lecture. Time = 00:56:28

‘Baucus Honors Elouise Cobell on U.S. Senate Floor.’ Time = 00:03:38

‘Tester: Elouise Cobell set this nation on a new course.’ Time = 00:05:54

‘FSTV Keynote Elouise Cobell.’ Cobell gives speech at the National Network of Grantmakers’ Conference. Time = 01:00:59

‘Elouise Cobell (Doctor of Humane Letters)-Dartmouth 2011 Honorary degree recipient.’ Cobell earns PhD at Dartmouth graduation ceremony. Time = 00:03:19

‘Elouise Cobell, 2004-Bellevue College.’ Time = 00:04:16

‘Indian Trust Settlement video.’ Time = 00:09:11

‘Native Americans get 1% of billion dollar settlement ½.’ Cobell speaks on Democracy Now! part 1. Time = 00:10:48

‘Native Americans get 1% of billion dollar settlement 2/3.’ Cobell speaks on Democracy Now! Part 2.  Time = 00:07:25

‘Native Americans get 1% of billion dollar settlement 3/3.’ Cobell speaks on Democracy Now! Part 3. Time = 00:10:30

‘Cobell v Salazar.’ Cobell speaks at Sinte Gleska University. Time = 00:50:11

‘Who sues the most powerful government in the world?’ Time = 00:00:47


Print sources:

Frank, Joshua, and Clair J. St. Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2008.

Elouise Cobell, Et Al. V. Secretary of the Interior, Et Al. : Transcript of Status Call Before the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge. Washington, DC: United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 2004.

Elouise Pepion Cobell, Et Al. V. Department of the Interior, Et Al. : Transcript of Motions Hearing Before the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge. Washington, DC: United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 2004.

Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of American Indian Women. New York: Facts On File, 2007.

Harper, Keith."Cobell V. Norton" Redressing a Century of Malfeasance." Human Rights. 33.2 (2006): 5-23.

Hatch, Robert, and William Hatch. The Hero Project: 2 Teens, 1 Notebook, 13 Extraordinary Interviews. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.


Arrillaga, Pauline. "Uppity Women - Elouise Cobell Takes on the Feds." Ms. 11.1 (2001): 36. Print.

University of Arizona location: v.2 1991/1992-v.23 2013. Micro- film 7320 

VHS Video:

Cobell, Elouise C. Native American Nation Building: Enpowerment and Asset Development in Poor Communities. Charlottesville, Va.: The Office, 2001.

--Sara Guzman, 2013