UM dedicates center focused on tribal lands to late Elouise Cobell

Trustees of Blackfeet Community College standing before Cobell Institute sign during dedication ceremony
By Keila Szpaller, Missoulian.

A Blackfeet warrior medallion is designed into the floor of the entrance to the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute.

On Friday at a dedication for the new center, the medallion represented a fitting tribute to the late Blackfeet tribal advocate and banker who fought to perpetuate the life of Native people.

“Elouise has done something many warriors have done in the past,” said Tony Incashola, one of several speakers at the event.

Those ancestors smiled with pride to know the institute on the bottom floor of the Payne Family Native American Center would help carry on the hopes and dreams of Native people, Incashola said. According to the University of Montana, the newly honored space “offers unprecedented technology and learning environments to UM students and the opportunity for collaborations with tribal colleges.”

Julene Pepion Kennerly, Cobell’s sister, was among the estimated 120 people who attended the ceremony. Kennerly said the dedication to her sibling was an honor for all Native people, and an institute focused on tribal land is directly linked to Cobell’s achievement on behalf of Native Americans.

“We most certainly need it within Indian Country. All the tribes need to know about their lands and to be educated in it,” Kennerly said before the event.

She said education about the land led Cobell to file the class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior – a case ultimately settled for $3.4 billion in 2010. Plaintiffs alleged the U.S. government had illegally taken billions of dollars of royalties from tribal members around the country for years.

“She’d seen the injustice of it, and she … just kept pondering and pondering if she would do it or not,” Kennerly said of filing the suit. “She visited my parents’ grave, and they gave her the courage and strength to do it.”

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At the ceremony, tribal and UM officials including President Royce Engstrom shared remarks about the institute and Cobell, as did her son, Turk Cobell. Kevin Kicking Woman sang a song in a Native language, and people in the audience that included Cobell’s friends and family sang parts of it along with him...

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Kevin Kicking Woman sings a song as part of the ceremony honoring the new Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute.