Elouise Cobell grew up hearing stories about how
the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian affairs
shortchanged property owners. Native Americans were
not being paid for the use of their land as had been
agreed upon under a trust agreement with the federal
government. Meanwhile, non-Indians were leasing the
land and profiting from oil, timber, and crop revenues.
Cobell eventually became an accountant and then a treasurer
for the Blackfeet Nation. When she tried repeatedly but failed to get
an explanation from the Bureau of Indian affairs regarding
monies owed, she filed a federal class-action suit on behalf
of more than 300,000 Indians who owned land but weren’t
being compensated for the use of the resources.
It took 15 years, but she eventually won a settlement of $3.4 billion.
Lesson: Using a seemingly ordinary skill to help correct an enormous wrong.