When Elouise Cobell, a petite Blackfeet warrior from Montana, started asking questions about missing money from government managed Indian Trust accounts, she never imagined that one day she would be taking on the world’s most powerful government. But what she discovered as the Treasurer of her tribe was a trail of fraud and corruption leading all the way from Montana to Washington DC. "100 Years" is the story of her 30-year fight for justice for 300,000 Native Americans whose mineral rich lands were grossly mismanaged by the United States Government. In 1996, Cobell filed the largest class action lawsuit ever filed against the federal government. For fifteen long years, and through three Presidential administrations, Elouise Cobell's unrelenting spirit never quit. This is the compelling true story of how she prevailed and made history.
Throughout my filmmaking career, I have always been attracted to stories about the triumph of the human spirit, and people overcoming great odds. So when I went looking for a story in March 2002, I looked for one that would inspire, make a difference, and maybe even change the way we see the world. What I found was an article in Mother Jones magazine about a people, a government and a betrayal of trust. It is a story that has its roots in the 19th century but still continues today. This little known story has evolved into "100 Years".
During my research and investigation, I was shocked to find that most Americans did not know about Cobell v., the largest class action lawsuit ever brought against the federal government. How can billions of dollars belonging to some of the most impoverished people in America be unaccounted for and not be front-page news? It troubled me that mainstream media always focused on Indian wealth through gaming. Unfortunately the facts about casinos and the nouveau riche American Indians are distorted, and ignore the truth---- one in three live in poverty. Among them, Mad Dog Kennerly, a Blackfeet Indian who makes beaded necklaces to supplement his $89 monthly oil payments; Mary Johnson, an 93-year old Navajo woman who has never been able to afford running water despite the five oil wells on her land; and Ruby Withrow, a Potawatomi Indian, who searched for years for answers to why her grandfather died penniless despite the oil wells that pumped 24/7 on his land. They are the invisible Indians that most Americans never see. And that is why I decided to tell this story. For if the standards of fiscal responsibility are compromised for one group of people, how safe are the rest of us? And as Judge Royce C. Lamberth said, "Justice delayed, is justice denied."
If this type of egregious action had been inflicted on any other ethnic group, there would have been a tremendous public outcry.”
Senator John McCain (R) Arizona
“The United States government made a commitment, through solemn treaty obligations when it divided Indian lands in 1887, to hold those lands in trust, to manage them wisely, and to give any income from the sale or lease of the land to its Indians owners. Our government has never fulfilled that promise.”
Former Senator Tom Daschle (D) South Dakota
“After a century of mismanaging Indian assets, it’s time for our nation to keep our promises.”
Senator Maria Cantwell (D) Washington
“The Department’s handling of the Individual Indian Money trust has served as the gold standard for mismanagement by the federal government for more than a century.”
Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth
“The Interior Department has been the Enron of federal agencies when it comes to managing Indian trust assets.”
Representative Nick J. Rahall II, (D) West Virginia
“The way these trust fund holders have been treated….is a national disgrace. If 40,000 people were cut off Social Security, there would be an uproar in Congress.”
Representative Tom Udall (D) New Mexico
Note from the Director: Melinda Janko
Quotes about the Trust
Elouise Cobell is the lead plaintiff of Cobell v., and the main character of the film. We follow her on the Blackfeet reservation as she tends to her cattle on the ranch, manages the lawsuit from her tiny Blackfeet Development Office, attends the local powwow, testifies before Congress, travels across country to speak to Indian beneficiaries and steadfastly fights for justice. She is a Blackfeet Warrior and the great, granddaughter of Mountain Chief, a Blackfeet Warrior who refused to compromise with the U.S. government.
Cora Bunnie is a Navajo Indian who has three oil wells on her land. Oil crews were surveying the land when the production crew was filming. Her land was targeted as one of the 1200 new wells that were fast tracked for development under President George W. Bush. She receives checks ranging from one penny to $30 a month.
Keith Harper, is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in Cobell v. He has represented the plaintiffs since the beginning of the case in 1996. He and Elouise frequently travel through Indian Country updating Indian beneficiaries on the status of the lawsuit.
Tex Hall, Former Chief of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikura Tribes of North Dakota and the former two-term President of National Congress of American Indians, (NCAI), testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Oversight Hearing on Potential Settlement Mechanisms for Cobell v. He is a key player in the suit as a friend of the court and has been one of the biggest advocates of settlement of the case.
Fire in the Belly Productions, Inc., is an independent production company based in Southern California that creates and develops documentary films that seek to educate and enlighten the public on a variety of social issues from all walks of life. The name, "Fire in the Belly," symbolizes commitment and passion for the stories we tell, with the common goal of "making films that make a difference."
Fire in the Belly's mission is to develop, finance, and produce entertaining, high quality, commercial films that will appeal to mainstream audiences. Adding to that commitment, the Company's long-range goal is to "pay it forward," by contributing a portion of the Company's net profits to an organization identified in each film's story.
Melinda Janko is the President of Fire in the Belly Productions, Inc.