Elouise Cobell first suspected the government of mishandling Native American trust fund money while working a summer job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs more than 30 years ago.

The bureau was created in the 1820s to manage real estate owned by Native Americans-leasing the land to farmers, ranchers, oil and gas companies, and holding the proceeds in trust for American Indians. Yet throughout that summer, Ms. Cobell recalls, many Blackfeet tribe members left the bureau's office here empty-handed.

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