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From law breakers to law makers, suffragists to unionists, bronc riders to ball players, Bold Women of Montana celebrates Women’s History Month in our state! Learn more about 23 bold women of Montana. Listen every weekday in March at 8:42 a.m. and 2:04 p.m., and find the latest episodes here.

Bold Women: Elouise Pepion Cobell, relentless warrior for Indigenous people

Elouise Pepion Cobell
Adam Sings In The Timber
Elouise Pepion Cobell

Born in 1945, tribal member Elouise Pepion Cobell grew up in a large, close ranch family on the southern edge of the Blackfeet reservation. As a teen, she wore poodle skirts and loved Elvis Presley, but was also aware of trouble fellow tribal members had accessing money in their trusts, which are like bank accounts but managed by the federal government. Elouise became an accountant, then tribal treasurer. Tribal records were confounding. Plus, even if a tribal member had an oil jack pumping away on their land, royalties were minuscule. Elouise got Congress to investigate, revealing malfeasance by the Interior and Treasury Departments. Astoundingly, nothing changed. So in 1996, Elouise sued the U.S. government. The suit revealed a dirty secret. For 100 years, the government had no system of accounting for Indian trusts, making the money of America's poorest minority easy to misuse and steal. Victory took 16 years. Elouise said it was like riding into the U.S. Cavalry and coming out alive, though she died—too young—before the final settlement. About half a million plaintiffs received “Cobell checks,” so nicknamed to honor this relentless warrior. For indigenous people everywhere, Elouise Cobell is an icon of justice.

Celebrating Women's History Month, Bold Women of Montana is brought to you by Mountain Press, publisher of Bold Women in Montana History, and is produced by Beth Judy, Jake Birch and Michael Marsolek. Theme Music by Naomi Moon Siegel.

Beth Judy is the author of Bold Women in Montana History and a limited audio series based on the book. She previously hosted and produced The Plant Detective, a locally produced and nationally syndicated program.
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