Crow Nation Seeks to Boost Oil and Gas Reserves, Grow Economy

For decades, coal mining has supported the Crow Nation’s economy. Now, Crow Nation Chairman Alvin Not Afraid, Jr., wants to create a robust oil industry to match.

Chairman Not Afraid laid out his vision at a small energy conference as the 99th annual Crow Fair, in Crow Agency, Montana got underway. The Crow Fair is also called the “Teepee Capital of the World” because of the impressive sight of hundreds of teepees fill the tree-lined campground.

Coal revenue supports the Crow Nation’s health care and other major services on the reservation and, without this money, essential services could be cut back, Chairman Not Afraid said.

To increase and diversify revenues, Chairman Not Afraid is looking to develop oil and gas reserves. And they’re looking to their sister tribe, the Hidatsa, and its Chairman for a little guidance.

Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation) Chairman Mark N. Fox expressed his support and threw in some history in his speech at the conference.

“We’re all aware [MHA Nation] has oil and gas, but it starts way before that. The Three Affiliated Tribes were an indigenous trade center. There were two in the United States and we were one. We played a primary role in the economy, thousands of years before the arrival of white people. Flash forward, we’re a tribal nation that has been trying reestablish its economy, reestablish its control, regain what it once had -- dominance in an economy.”

The development of oil on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation created the economic means for the tribe to make dramatic changes. The new Justice Building, homeless shelter and addiction centers are only a few of the projects underway. But as the price of oil dropped, the MHA Nation’s oil income fell.

“Cuts have to be made,” Chairman Fox said, but cutting costs isn’t the only way the MHA Nation is responding to the weakening oil market.

“We are not going to simply sit back and collect some taxes and royalties. We’re getting aggressive. We are no longer going to let the non-tribal entities take 80 percent of the revenue off the reservation. We are getting involved in the production,” Chairman Fox said.

“Already we have four oil wells. When we own and sell everything ourselves, we quadruple our revenue,” Chairman Fox said.

Other tribal leaders present endorsed moving in this direction.

“This is the way we have to go. In the past no one has had the initiative, but we do,” Matthew M. Komalty, Kiowa Tribe chairman, said. “I’m going to take these ideas back home.”
The Crow Nation is working with a Chinese company to survey the reservation to see how extensive the tribe’s oil reserves might be. “There is so much potential out here,” said Ken Deputy, Oil and Gas Director for the Crow Nation. Deputy worked on Fort Berthold during the oil boom several years ago and said he learned a lot about the business during that time.

“It takes about 10 years to develop [an oil industry]. Hopefully, 10 years from now, we’ll have a whole different count,” Deputy said speaking of oil wells. “Right now, we’re light.”