Elouise Cobell’s Legacy Finds Permanent Home at UM

October 10, 2014

MISSOULA – The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute at the University of Montana officially will open its doors Friday, Oct. 10. The institute is located in The Payne Family Native American Center.

“We here at the University of Montana are humbled that Elousie’s family has permitted us to honor her,” said UM President Royce Engstrom at the institute’s inception announcement in 2013. “[This is] where future leaders will meet the challenges around land and asset management, as well as understand the worldwide cultures of indigenous people.”

The institute is named in honor of Cobell, the leader from the Blackfeet Tribe who in 1985 embarked on one of the largest and most complicated class-action lawsuits ever brought against the U.S. government. The lawsuit claimed the Interior Department illegally obtained billions of dollars in royalties owed to individual tribal members all across the country, and ultimately resulted in a 2010 settlement worth $3.4 billion. Cobell died in 2011 at the age of 65. 

“Elouise had a voracious appetite for justice,” said Terry Payne, who along with his family provided most of the $1.2 million needed for the institute’s completion. “She was an inspiration to me and so many other people.”

The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute offers unprecedented technology and learning environments to UM students, and the opportunity for collaborations with tribal colleges. It occupies the entire garden level of The Payne Family Native American Center. The institute provides flexible classroom designs, advanced distance-learning platforms and a multiscreen theater room that will emphasize storytelling traditions in Native American culture. One highlight of the facility is a round room, which uses the same technology as the American Museum of Natural History and NASA, and immerses viewers in an interactive display of the environment and the sky. It can be used for traditional storytelling and for astronomical teaching. 

Most importantly, the institute will serve as a way for Cobell’s legacy of justice and equality to carry on for many years to come. 

“This is a space where students can work effectively on real-world problems,” said Chris Comer, dean of UM’s College of Humanities and Sciences, which includes the Department of Native American Studies. “When they’re working on classroom projects, those projects will produce something that’s helping a community and making a real difference.”

For more information call Cassie Strauss at 406-243-2568 or email cassie.strauss@mso.umt.edu.

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Contact: Cassie Strauss, assistant director of development, College of Humanities and Sciences, 406-243-2568, cassie.strauss@mso.umt.edu.