The oppression that Native Americans face extends beyond the bloody massacres and forced relocations to include the economic deprivation of their communities. “100 Years: One Woman’s Fight for Justice” chronicles how banker Elouise Cobell fought the United States government for the billions of dollars it owed Indigenous landowners. It was one of the largest class action lawsuits in U.S. history. PBS/World Channel made the documentary, which aired last night (March 13) as part of the America ReFramed series, available for free streaming above.
“100 Years” takes its name from the century of financial exploitation between the late 1880s, when the federal government broke up communal Indigenous reservations into parcels for individual Native American households, and 1996, when Cobell first filed Cobell v. Salazar. The documentary explores how Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and founder of the tribe-operated Blackfeet National Bank, discovered several financial abuses at the Bureau of Indian Affairs throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Those abuses included the government keeping billions of dollars—earned by Native American landowners via the federal government, which leased their lands for natural resource extraction—in trusts.
Cobell joined forces with other tribal leaders to sue the government on behalf of more than 300,000 Native Americans who overwhelmingly lived in poverty while the government withheld their royalties. It took until 2009 for the government to settle with the plaintiffs for $3.4 billion. Cobell died two years later from complications of cancer.
Watch “100 Years” in full above or via WorldChannel.org.