Missoula's Cobell Center opens with tributes, memories to tribal leader's dedication and spirit

Dennis Bragg, MTN News

MISSOULA - The new Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute at the University of Montana is officially open after years of planning an effort, and the center's namesake is being remembered for many, many more years of hard work on behalf of the Indian People.

Educators and tribal members came from hundreds of miles away to officially open the new learning facility in the Payne Family Native American Center, the next bold step in for specialized and advanced educational offerings for tribes all over the region.

It was a time to remember Cobell, just days away from the anniversary of her untimely death three years ago ending a life spent fighting for opportunity and justice - a point UM President Royce Engstrom shared by quoting Cobell from the initial dedication of the center.

"This university, students and communities, will take a lead in illustrating how we work together as sovereigns to become a feeding ground for the ideas of land, and asset management."

"Obviously our family is here because we are honoring our mother and we really can not thank the people that made this happen enough," Elouise Cobell's son Turk said.

Those people include benefactors like Terry Payne and his family, who was presented with a traditional Star Quilt, to show the thanks of the Blackfeet.

And then it was time to tour the center itself, with state-of-the-art facilities to study land use and planning, and engage in distance learning with other indigenous people across the globe, an active tribute to Cobell's tireless fight to secure billions in reparations for royalties mis-handled for decades.

"Elouise as they say was a true warrior. And she stood up for what was right and she pursued it to the end. She wouldn't give up. She'd never ever give up.And that is inspirational in and of itself. Besides that she was just a beautiful, wonderful woman. A great person," Terry Payne said.

"This building, this center is going to give hope to all Native American Country. For every Indian student in California, New York, all the way through Montana can come to this school and know who Elouise Cobell is. Elouise is our she-warrior of education. I bless her soul and I bless her fight because we will all get our PHDs because of Elouise Cobell," Blackfeet Community College Trustee Chair Theda New Breast said.

There are people who become legends in their own times, and those who are remembered after they are gone. Today's ceremony, and the opening of this new center show Elouise Cobell was both.

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