Elouise Cobell, because of her courage and perseverance in confronting the federal government over its mismanagement of individual American Indian trust funds, left a unique legacy to future generations. A significant part of that legacy is the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund, which last month topped $60 million.
On April 11, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced that the department had made its final payment of $12.5 million into the Cobell Scholarship Fund, fulfilling its obligation to provide scholarship money for American Indian and Alaska Native students based on the activities of the $1.9-billion Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations, also a provision of the $3.4-million Cobell Settlement approved by Congress in 2010. “Investment in the next generation of American leaders will allow many of these young people to gain the valuable skills required for today’s competitive workforce and the knowledge and expertise needed to help their communities meet tomorrow’s challenges,” said Zinke.
The Cobell Scholarship Fund provides money for full-time undergraduate and graduate students pursuing college degrees or technical training at an accredited non-profit institution of higher education. Applicants must demonstrate that they are a member of a federally-recognized Indian tribe, that they have maintained an adequate grade point average and that they have financial need. Currently, the fund is not accepting applications from descendants of members of federally-recognized tribes who are not themselves members.
The Cobell Board of Trustees oversees the Cobell Scholarship Fund, which is administered by the New Mexico-based non-profit Indigenous Education, Inc.
Alex Pearl, chairman of the Cobell Board of Trustees, said in a news release, “The funds made possible by Ms. Cobell’s determined pursuit of justice for individual Indians provide an essential vehicle for improving the lives of young Native people and their communities. Our goal of creating a uniquely tuned and permanent scholarship program attentive to the needs and issues of Native students will remain our steadfast focus.”
So far, the fund has awarded more than 2,000 scholarships totaling more than $5.25 million to almost 1,000 Native American students, according to the Interior Department. The scholarships can be as much as $5,000 per academic year for vocational and undergraduate students and up to $10,000 per academic year for graduate and doctoral students.
These numbers do not include awards for the 2017-2018 academic year or for summer 2017. That information is not yet available, according to Melvin Monette-Barajas, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, who is president and executive director of Indigenous Education, Inc.
As is the case with most scholarships, application deadlines are far in advance of the time period for which students need funding. Applications for summer 2017 and the 2017-2018 academic year have already closed. Students considering applying for the next academic year (2018-2019) and summer 2018 should let Indigenous Education, Inc. know of their interest and keep a close eye on the website for application deadlines.
Since the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations was established in 2012, the Interior Department has been making quarterly payments into the Cobell Scholarship Fund based on the value of the fractionated parcels of land purchased from owners willing to sell and put into trust for tribes. As of May 12, 2017, the program had purchased more than 2 million acres for just under $1.2 billion. Payments into the scholarship fund related to the Land Buy-Back Program were capped by the Cobell Settlement at $60 million, and that goal has now been met.
In November 2016, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, stating that she wanted for Indians the “equal treatment [that is] at the heart of the American promise.”