Cobell scholarship fund grows to nearly $39M with latest DOI transfer

The late Elouise Cobell meets President Barack Obama at the White House on December 8, 2010. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The scholarship fund that was created by the $3.4 billion settlement to the Cobell trust fund lawsuit continues to grow.

The Interior Department on Tuesday announced the transfer of another $4.8 million into the fund. It now boasts a balance of nearly $39 million, money that will be used to enhance educational opportunities for American Indians and Alaska Natives across the country.

“This scholarship fund is opening doors for Native American students across Indian Country to pursue their dreams in the 21st Century workplace, and prepare themselves for leadership through higher education,” Solicitor Hilary Tompkins, a member of the Navajo Nation who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the department, said in a press release. “The program carries out the vision of Elouise Cobell to enhance lifetime opportunities for American Indians and Alaskan Native students and is a key to advancing self-determination for tribal nations.”

The scholarship is seeded with proceeds from the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. A portion of every purchase goes into the fund as Indian landowners are paid for their fractional interests, which are then returned to tribal governments.

The settlement allows up to $60 million to be deposited for scholarships. The board of trustees that oversees the fund, however, will manage the money in order to keep the program going for as long as possible.

"The Cobell Board of Trustees is committed to carrying on the legacy of Elouise Cobell. Our focus is on the prudent investment and management of our funds so that generations to come may benefit from Elouise's leadership and courage," said Alex Pearl, a member of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as chair of the board. "We are excited to continue developing a first-rate 21st century scholarship program responsive to the needs of individual Indians. As was the case for Elouise, this fund focuses on individual Indians, not tribal governments, and enhancing the educational opportunities available to them throughout their academic careers."

The first round of scholarships resulted in almost $2 million in awards for nearly 400 graduates and undergraduates. One chart offers more details about the tribal affiliations of the recipients and another about the institutions they attend.

"I am graduating in May from Humboldt State University with a Bachelor Degree in Social Work," recipient April Davis said on the Cobell scholarship website. "I am very thankful for all the support received from the Cobell Scholarship while obtaining my degree."

Since the Land Buy-Back Program began in late 2013, more than $1.72 billion in offers have been made to Indian landowners. They have accepted $761.4 million as of April 8, according to DOI. The equivalent of nearly 1.5 million acres has been transferred to tribes.

The settlement authorizes a total of $1.9 billion for the program so there is still plenty of money to go around in Indian Country. The settlement, as enacted by Congress, requires the money to be spent with 10 years from the date of the first offers, which would be in late 2023.

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