Cobell v. Salazar, the landmark class-action case, and its settlement arise out of a painful period in American history. For more than a century, the government’s abuse of individual Indian trust beneficiaries has been documented in various government reports and has been debated in Congress, but nothing that Congress did or said stopped egregious breaches of trust committed by the executive branch. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit noted that “[t]he General Accounting Office, Interior Department Inspector General, and Office of Management and Budget, among others, have all condemned the mismanagement of the Individual Indian Money trust accounts over the past twenty years.” Indeed, the government exploited the Individual Indian Trust as if those funds were its own, wholly disregarding both its statutory and common law trust obligations and the needs and interests of hundreds of thousands of impoverished Indians.
No one did anything to stop that abuse until Elouise Cobell stood up and told the government, “no more.” This Article relates the actions in equity taken by Elouise Cobell to compel the United States to conduct a full historical accounting of all IIM Trust funds, to correct and restate IIM account balances, to fix broken Trust management systems, and to undertake other critical trust reform measures to ensure prudent Trust Management, and examines its remarkable achievements.