Big Sky Roundup

UM to celebrate Elouise Cobell Day on Nov. 5

By: - November 1, 2021 5:15 pm

The late Elouise Cobell. (Provided by the University of Montana.)

The University of Montana will host its third annual Elouise Cobell Day Celebration on Friday, Nov. 5, to recognize the work and legacy of the late Blackfeet activist, UM announced in a news release.

UM’s Payne Family Native American Center houses the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture InstituteCobell gained national acclaim when she and four other Native Americans embarked on one of the largest and most complicated class-action lawsuits ever brought against the U.S. government. The lawsuit rightly claimed the Interior Department illegally obtained billions of dollars in royalties owed to individual tribal members all across the country, which ultimately resulted in a 2010 settlement worth $3.4 billion. During this 15-year legal battle, Cobell became famous for her unrelenting appetite for justice, ensuring a legacy of equity and truth for many years to come. She died in 2011 at age 65.

Cobell, who was born Nov. 5, 1946, and raised on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, carried the Indian name Yellow Bird Woman. In 2017, the Health Science and Education Building at Blackfeet Community College in Browning was named Yellow Bird Woman Lodge in her honor. Cobell also served on the UM Foundation board, where her advocacy contributed to the University’s commitment to Montana’s First Peoples.

All UM students, faculty, staff and Griz family members are invited to attend a series of in-person and Zoom events to commemorate this important day. Members of the media also are invited to cover events.

Elouise Cobell Day Celebration Schedule:

  • 10-11 a.m. – “Cobell v. Salazar: A Case History.” This event will be presented by Professor Alex Pearl of the University of Oklahoma College of Law. (Zoom link:

Pearl is an enrolled citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. He is a nationally recognized scholar of water law, climate change law and policy, Indigenous legal/social issues and statutory interpretation. His research focuses both on distinct concepts within these fields, as well as intersectional issues that cross legal fields and social dynamics. He regularly works collaboratively with scientists and scholars in related fields to produce practical and theoretical scholarship.

  • Noon-1 p.m. – Elouise Cobell Celebration at Payne Family Native American Center Room 105. This event will include a welcome and introductions by UM President Seth Bodnar. Lea Whitford (Blackfeet) will be the special guest speaker. This event is sponsored by the UM President’s Office. (Zoom link:

Whitford “Maistakii” (Crow Woman) is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation. She holds a master’s degree in education from Montana State University-Bozeman. Whitford currently is the Blackfeet Native American Studies District instructional coach for Browning Public Schools. She has over 30 years of experience in education. A teacher, cultural consultant and an advocate for learning tribal history at all levels, Maistakii also is a former Montana State senator and has served in the Montana House of Representatives. While in the Senate she assisted with getting Elouise Cobell Day recognized by the state.

  • 3-4:30 p.m. – Cobell Scholars Panel and Discussion at the Payne Family Native American Center. The facilitator will be Bridget Neconie of Indigenous Education Inc. This panel of current UM Cobell Scholars will discuss their experiences and future aspirations. This event will be sponsored by Indigenous Education Inc. (Zoom link:

Neconie is an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico and the director of scholarships at Indigenous Education Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Albuquerque and home of the Cobell Scholarship. Neconie graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also served as assistant director in the Office of Undergraduate Admission for 20 years. She is a strong advocate for support programs and services for Native American students, and her career in higher education has included college pipeline development and ongoing diversity initiatives.

  • 4:30-6 p.m. – Cobell Scholars and Future Cobell Scholars Meet and Greet at the Payne Family Native American Center rotunda. This event is a reception for current and future Cobell Scholars to discuss their experiences and the opportunities granted to them.

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