The story of the Blackfeet Nation woman who filed the largest class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government in its history is told in a film showing at a Yakima church on July 16.
“100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice” features Elouise Cobell and her investigation into billions missing from government-managed Indian Trust accounts — profits earned on 54 million acres of Native land held in trust by the government since 1887. The documentary will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Yakima, 225 N. Second St.
The church is sponsoring the free film screening with Between the Ridges, a Yakima Valley ecumenical advocacy agency. A freewill collection will be made for Noah’s Ark Homeless Shelter in Wapato, a news release said.
Cobell was the treasurer of her tribe when she started asking questions about missing money and uncovered fraud and corruption in the gross mismanagement by federal officials of the mineral-rich lands of 300,000 Native Americans. She was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 alleging that Native families had received inadequate or no payments on the grazing, oil, gas and recreational leases the federal government held in trust.
In the documentary trailer on YouTube, Cobell mentions how scant land royalty payments did not reflect the riches reaped — an injustice with far-reaching and even fatal consequences.
“Every day, Indian people are dying in Indian communities without the money that they need for the basics of life,” Cobell said.
She and federal officials agreed in 2009 to settle for $3.4 billion. Along with $1.4 billion going to individual account holders, around $2 billion would be used by the government to buy fractionated Indian lands from individual owners willing to sell, with that land going to tribes. Another $60 million would go to youth scholarships.
Cobell, who was born with the name Little Bird Woman, died in 2011. She was 65.
Next project for producer: Missing women
“100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice” was produced by Melinda Janko, who in January attended and spoke at a meeting in Toppenish on missing and murdered indigenous women.
“I’ve been researching this for about a year,” Janko told the crowd in the events center at Legends Casino. She plans to call her documentary “Women are Sacred.”
“I don’t think there’s any greater time to get this film out. I hope that we can do it in two years,” Janko said.