MISSOULA, Mont. - Born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, Elouise Cobell would end up winning a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Government, for mismanagement of Indian Trust Funds in 2009, before passing away in 2011.

In 2015, Governor-at-the-time Steve Bullock, officially recognized November 5th as Elouise Cobell Day.

On Friday, the University of Montana held the third annual Elouise Cobell Day Celebration.

UM's Special Guest Speaker Lea Whitford said Cobell fought hard to win the lawsuit.

"She stuck through it, and thank God she did, right? Those of us that are living on tribal properties or that are enrolled, or that have that connection to Indian country like that, we are grateful," Whitford said.

After graduating from the University of Montana, Cobell worked as a treasurer for Blackfeet Nation. That's when she realized many Native Americans weren't getting money that belonged to them for their land, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Lawyer for Cobell in Cobell vs Salazar, Alex Pearl, said explained what it was like for the Native American account holders.

"Can you imagine asking your bank how much money is in your account, and they sort of shrug and say they're not sure? Well, that's essentially what's happened to the IIM account holders, since the inception of the trust," Pearl said.

Cobell proved the government was abusing Indian trust funds for over a century, leaving Native Americans in poverty.

The lawsuit resulted in a $3.4 billion settlement, which included money for members of the lawsuit, the land consolidation program and a college scholarship fund for Native Americans.

"She was a visionary in the sense that she knew the wrongs that were happening and she knew that she wanted something done and she did it," Whitford said.

Cobell passed away from cancer just months after the settlement got the final stamp of approval in 2011, but many Native Americans are still reaping the benefits of her accomplishments today.

Recommended for you