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Russell Stands-Over-Bull: Building Community and Developing Natural Resources

"Success awaits everyone out there, and it's for the taking," says Russell Stands-Over-Bull, president of Arrow Creek Resources in Billings, Montana. After searching for petroleum reserves throughout the Rocky Mountains, the North Sea, and Canada, Stands-Over-Bull has now come full-circle, back to the Crow Indian Reservation where he grew up, where he assists Native American tribes in assessing and developing tribally-owned natural resources. He hopes that his search for buried coal seams and oil and gas reservoirs will benefit the Native American community and inspire Native American children to enter careers in the earth sciences.

Stands-Over-Bull speaks with MiSciNet contributing writer Anne Sasso about his career, the need for more opportunities for Native Americans in the geosciences, and what it takes for young Native Americans to realize their dreams.

ANNE SASSO: How did you become interested in geology and the geosciences?

RUSSELL STANDS-OVER-BULL: I grew up in a tribal community on the Crow Indian Reservation near Billings, Montana. I lived in the Powder River Basin, where there were a lot of coal resources and coal-mining activity. My dad was the tribal president during the seventies when there was a big demand for coal and petroleum. He was always concerned that the tribe didn't have the expertise they needed [to administer the natural resources on the tribal lands].

So he ingrained in me the need to become educated in something that can help the tribes. All the coal, the potential for oil and gas resources, and the intrigue of mineral and precious metal deposits was very appealing to me. I was interested in the bigger picture--in having the ability to find this hidden treasure. When I started my freshman year at Montana State University and took my first geology class, that was it!

Russell Stands-Over-Bull examines a core from an oil or gas exploration drill hole.

A: You attended high school on the reservation. How was the transition to Montana State?

R: I went to Plenty Coups High School, located right in the heart of Crow country, in a community renowned for the preservation of Crow language and culture. When I was growing up, if you didn't speak the language, you really were not considered a full-fledged member of the tribe.

It's not an easy transition for those that make the jump from being brought up in a traditional native home and then in a matter of days, being taken out of that environment and put right into an unfamiliar, foreign atmosphere. The more exposure you have to non-Indian society, the easier the transition is. But in my case, I was 100% Native, and for that segment of the Native population, the transition can be quite difficult.

It was a struggle the first year and a half or so. But I finally decided, "Well, this is the way it's got to be." And I guess the key is that you've got to embrace change and really determine within yourself that you're going to pursue the dream.

A: From Montana State you went on to do graduate work at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). What led you there?

R: My folks, Patrick Stands-Over-Bull and Sharon Iron-Russell, were very instrumental. Both are retired educators, so education was very important. I come from a long line of educators on my mother's side. My grandmother was a pioneer, and she was the first Crow woman to get a four-year teaching degree two generations before I went to school.

Also, one of my closest mentors, David Lopez, a geologist now with the Montana Geological Survey, said, "You have to get a Master's if you really want to get a good job as a geologist." And he advised going to CSM.

After I completed CSM, I was really passionate about coal deposits. So I worked with the United States Geological Survey branch of coal geology to understand how coal beds formed in the Coalmount Formation near North Park, Colorado.

After that I wanted to get exposed to the oil-and-gas side of things. So I began to look for opportunities to do research in that arena, and that led to my doctoral dissertation work [also at Colorado School of Mines], which was sponsored by the Amoco Production Company.

At the time, Amoco had an office in downtown Denver. They provided employment and a dissertation project. So I worked full-time for a good portion of my Ph.D. program; in the evenings, I'd work on my dissertation. It was a very good partnership.

A: After working in the petroleum industry for several years, you returned to your hometown and founded Arrow Creek Resources. How did that come about?

R: My dad instilled in me an obligation to help my people. "You're a survivor of all of the history and hardships that the tribe has been through. And when the time comes, when they ask for your help, even if it means you have to leave everything, never forsake the opportunity to help your people," he said.

That call came in 2000. The tribal leadership said, "Russ, we really need your help, would you please consider coming home?" So, I started trying to get a little closer to home.

In late 2001, I founded Arrow Creek Resources, a company dedicated to helping Indian tribes develop their resources. I brought my family back to the Crow Indian Reservation and I started working with the Crow. The first 12 months, I helped them with several energy-development projects. I helped them to understand the business, to know what sort of expertise to bring in, and how to go about evaluating proposals.

More recently, I worked with the Arapaho and Shoshone on their oil and gas resources. It's just been a wonderful time. The tribes are in need of expertise in developing their mineral and energy resources, and they don't have people that they can turn to from their own tribes.

A: Given the need for tribal expertise, do you feel that the earth sciences are a good career choice for Native American students?

R: Yes. There are a lot of opportunities. The future is bright for geoscientists because of baby boomer attrition. It's going to leave a significant need in the energy business, especially in mineral resource mapping and evaluation for tribes.

For Natives, I think the push for sovereign immunity by many Indian tribes will provide opportunities to spend part of their career helping Natives. Right now their financial base is pretty weak, but I think that'll improve as they begin to take more ownership of the economic projects that are being thought of today.

A: What types of skills do students need to develop to best help their Tribes?

R: First, you've got to prove yourself in industry. You've got to gain experience in industry and really learn the business. Academic training is just a foundation; it's not enough. You've got to learn what drives the business: economics and science. It's important to become very proficient at utilizing state-of-the-art technology and maturing your skill set.

When you do that in any discipline--business, geosciences or engineering--then you increase your value in making an impact on society, whether it's American or tribal.

A: You're also an adjunct professor at Montana State University. What counsel do you give to the students you mentor?

R: No matter who you are, life is short. You've got to shoot for the top; dream big. You know if you're going to get in this thing and do it for a significant part of your life, you either go big or go home.

Life is out there and it's for the taking. Whether you're from the affluent suburbs of Beverly Hills, the inner city of Brooklyn, or from the Indian reservations of Montana, life isn't easy, but success awaits everyone out there. It's for those that are willing to go after it with everything they have. So go get it!

Anne Sasso is a freelancer writer and may be reached at