IMPACT AWARD: Elouise Cobell, center, with CNN anchor Paula Zahn, left, and actress Marlo Thomas, right, at AARP Magazine ceremony in New York City.
Amid stars in the entertainment, media and political world, Elouise Cobell was honored on Monday for her efforts to bring accountability to the Indian trust.
At a ceremony in New York City, Cobell was hailed by AARP Magazine as one of the 10 people who make the world a better place. She is the first Native American to win the Impact Award from
the largest circulation magazine in the world.
"I'm representing so many people that have been fighting for justice," Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, said in an interview. "I'll never forget that."
As the lead plaintiff in the Indian trust fund lawsuit, Cobell
secured an accounting for billions of dollars and
uncovered federal mismanagement dating back more
than a century.
"In light of the wrongs of the past, the passion of Elouise helps
ensure the bright future and restored dignity of Native Americans,"
said Paula Zahn, the CNN anchor who hosted the event.
Coming 10 years into the case, Cobell hopes the accolades bring more
public awareness to the struggles faced by Indian account holders
across the nation.
Many have gone without knowing how much their land is worth or
what their natural resources are producing.
"I think it's accomplishing the task of spreading
the word to many people that have never heard of our class action
lawsuit," she said.
Cobell also hopes the heightened interest will lead to a speedy resolution.
She's headed to Washington, D.C., for a hearing on Wednesday
before Judge James Robertson, who was just assigned to the case.
"I'm looking forward that he will be ruling expeditiously, and
that he understands that the government has consistently stalled
our case," Cobell said of the judge.
Dennis Gingold, one of the lead attorneys,
said Robertson called the hearing on his own accord, not
on any request by the plaintiffs or the government.
Gingold cited language in a recent court ruling that called
on both parties to "work with the new judge to resolve
this case expeditiously and fairly."
The 2:30pm hearing will be the first since Judge Royce Lamberth
was removed from the case after 10 years on the job.
The Bush administration attacked his rulings as overly biased
against the Interior Department, which was labeled
"the last pathetic outpost of the indifference and anglocentrism we thought we
had left behind" in one pivotal opinion.
At the ceremony in New York, Gingold expressed confidence that
Robertson, a Clinton appointee, will be a fair judge.
But he noted that the plaintiffs filed a petition
with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday to seek the reinstatement
of Lamberth, a Reagan nominee.
Beyond the courtroom, Cobell met with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota),
the new chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and said he
has pledged to introduce legislation to settle the case once Congress
goes back to work in January.
"I just hope we can get the other senators on board with us," she said.
Cobell hasn't had a chance to meet with Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia),
the new chairman of the House Resources Committee, but said she has
spoken with staff members. Rahall co-sponsored settlement legislation
but didn't include the case on his recently-released agenda for
the 110th Congress.
Besides Cobell, the other Impact Award winners included
actor/director Robert DeNiro, actress Marlo Thomas and
Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
who was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Assignment of New Judge:Cobell
(December 7, 2006)
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Kempthorne - http://www.indiantrust.com
v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm