And President Obama has awarded Blackfeet Nation tribal leader Elouise Cobell the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 She was the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1996 lawsuit claiming the U.S. Department of Interior had misspent, lost or stolen hundreds of billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

After a nearly 15-year legal battle, the U.S. government settled for $3.4 billion, the largest government class action settlement in U.S. history. This is Elouise Cobell speaking on Democracy Now! in 2008.

Elouise Cobell: "In our communities, in our Indian communities, people are living in dire poverty. People that have oil wells pumping in their backyards are not receiving their money. And they don’t have homes. They can’t send their children to school.

And it’s a very sad condition. It doesn’t take you very long to drive through an Indian community and see all these wonderful resources, but seeing our communities living in dire poverty. And then, after you find out—and what we found out through this lawsuit is the fact that, well, the government was just using our money to reduce the national debt."

That was Elouise Cobell. She died in 2011. Other recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom award this year include artist Maya Lin, actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen, and basketball legends Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor—it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better,” President Barack Obama said. “From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”

Elouise Cobell died on October 16, 2011, at the age of 65. On November 16, 2016, President Obama honored her posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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