Yellowstone Valley Woman Magazine December 2011/January 2012 : 13

M Majel Russell A Woman Who Knows Her Roots Majel Russell is a hometown girl that might have taken on some big professional roles, but has never forgotten her Montana and Crow Tribal roots. When we first met her in 2002, she shared with YVW about what she then called her biggest accomplishment -helping the Crow Tribe rewrite their tribal constitution. Since that time, her career and law office has taken on a whole new focus, one that is meant to empower Native American tribes from coast to coast. Majel says simply, “We’ve touched a lot of people, empowered a lot of people.” Truth be told Majel’s law firm, Elk River Law Firm is a practice with a direct focus and a niche appeal. She adds, “I think there are still very few lawyers that have 100% Indian-owned law firms and that is attractive to tribal clients.” While she’s built a business helping educate tribal members on legal issues, in the past five years she was at the helm of a very important job. It was so influential that she left her practice for a year to serve as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. With a smile in her voice she shares, “It was a major endeavor.” It was a presidential appointment with the mission of overseeing more than 10,000 employees within the Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs offices. “It was a major position,” she admits. “I was second in command and basically oversaw a lot of the activities and advocated for tribes within the Department of the Interior for funding and for policy development. I testified before Congress on bills that impacted tribes. I visited a lot of Indian country to be a liaison for Washington D.C. policy makers.” While she only held that post for a year, she was able to use that expertise to mold her law firm into one that not only represented tribes and their members in the legal system, but educated as well. Majel now organizes a handful of seminars across the country each year. “We’ve expanded our law practice into doing an educational component to educate tribal members on how to be good stewards of their Indian trust lands,” she admits. “We focus on understanding all the federal statutes and regulations that govern Indian trust lands and we are empowering tribal members to make the best decisions to maximize the benefits.” The result, she feels, is helping lift up tribal members to improve the quality of life and standard of living on the reservation. With her recent legislative experience, you wonder if Majel ever hopes for a political office in her future. She’s got the connections and it’s in her blood. Her grandmother, Josephine, was heavily involved in Big Horn County’s Democratic Party and even ran for public office. Majel laughs at the thought, “I am pretty content practicing law. I feel like I am where I like to be, here in Montana.” Her parents live, relatively speaking, down the road in Pryor and she visits the Crow Reservation weekly. Her heart lives there. She says no matter where she works or practices law, “I am really connected to the homeland. I am connected to the Crow Reservation, the property that I own there, the tribe, my membership in the tribe and all of my extended family.” Majel Russell is a woman who knows her roots. BY JULIE KOERBER BY JULIE KOERBER YELLOWSTONEVALLEYWOMAN.COM | DECEMBER 2011/JANUARY 2012 13

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