Cobell scholarship fund grows to $47M thanks to buy-back effort

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

The Interior Department has transferred another $7.9 million to the Cobell scholarship fund.

The fund was created by the historic $3.4 billion settlement to the Indian trust lawsuit. To date, it's received more than $47 million to help tribal citizens advance their educations.

"Our hope is that these young people will not be forced to rethink their decision to pursue an education because they are worried about whether they can afford the tuition and fees necessary to attend post-secondary and graduate institutions," Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, the second-in-command at Interior, said in a press release on Wednesday.

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 land interests, which are then returned to tribal ownership.

"Through contributions from the land buy-back program, the scholarship fund is helping the next generation of Native American and Alaska Native students reach their goals and attain an education that will make them competitive in the 21st Century workforce and beyond," Connor said.

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

"The latest distribution helps our mission of carrying out the vision of Elouise Cobell to enhance educational opportunities for American Indians and Alaskan Native students," said Alex Pearl, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation who serves as chair of the board.

Cobell, who was a citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, passed away in October 2011. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor, last November.

"The president’s recognition of her leadership and dedication to fighting long-standing injustice on behalf of individual Indians is a testament to her life," Pearl said. "The Cobell Board of Trustees is honored to continue her legacy and further her impact on Native people. We remain committed to creating a uniquely tuned and perpetual scholarship program designed to respond to the needs and issues of Native student

According to the board, nearly 1,800 scholarships have been awarded so far, totaling more than $5.25 million for nearly 1,000 recipients. Undergraduate students receive $5,000 per semester while for graduate and doctoral students receive $10,000 per semester.

Interior Department Report:
2016 Status Report: Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (November 2016)

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