Native American Law

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Native American Law necessitates not only a keen understanding of federal and state laws, but also an in-depth knowledge of tribal governance. Those working directly with a sovereign tribal government, or on behalf of one, benefit from partnering with a legal team that has the experience needed to navigate this complicated area of law

Dickinson Wright has extensive experience and knowledge of Indian law, tribal rights, and the many legal, economic, and cultural issues impacting Native Americans, First Nations peoples, and those doing business with them.

Our Team

Our Native American Law practice, which includes members of federally recognized tribes, brings together the skills and experiences of attorneys from closely related disciplines such as energy, water, public finance, corporate and project finance, construction, real estate, gaming, and governance. Together, these professionals offer an unmatched depth and breadth of experience and collective insight into the issues that our clients face.

Our Services

Economic Development: We actively represent clients in economic development transactions including gaming, energy development, water resource development, and other economic development opportunities. We also help clients navigate the complex issues that arise regarding tribal sovereignty, immunity waiver, and tax matters.

Project Development: Our team works to assure that projects are fully compliant with applicable laws and regulations while ensuring their economic integrity in support of project finance.

Energy and Natural Resource Development: We assist clients in navigating the challenges of developing and procuring energy resources. Our team represents mineral owners, energy producers, and transporters with the development and financing of energy production. Additionally, we assist with sustainability policy development and implementation

General Counsel: Our Native American Law team provides broad counsel to clients in a number of industries, always keeping their business objectives in mind.

Gaming: We represent tribal casinos, gaming regulatory agencies, and gaming vendors and suppliers, assisting with all phases of tribal gaming including securing federal and state approvals, negotiating financing, casino development, establishing vendor relationships, casino operations, and ongoing regulatory compliance.

Litigation: Team lawyers litigate cases involving Native American law, tribal rights, and land claims in federal, state, and tribal courts.

Governance: We counsel local governments, private companies, and other non-Indian clients in their business dealings on Indian reservations or with tribal peoples. Our work includes:

• Advising and representing clients in matters pertaining to tribal sovereignty and tribal sovereign immunity.

• Advising clients on proper employment practices while operating on or near a tribal reservation.

• Providing general representation to tribes, including securing status clarification for unrecognized tribes; developing and drafting tribal constitutions, tribal codes, bylaws and ordinances; and assisting with land claims.

• Organizing and advising tribal business entities, including telephone companies and economic development agencies.

• Providing general representation to tribes and private parties regarding tax issues unique to projects and services on tribal land, involving tribal parties, or otherwise involving Native American law.

Representative Matters

Our Native American Law attorneys have represented tribes, non-tribal governments, and private parties in state, federal and tribal courts in connection with the following services:

• Assuring protection of tribal trust resources and the environment, including resolving matters related to claims and title; water rights and fishing; hunting and gathering rights; and cultural resource protection.

• Negotiating leases for commercial developments on Indian reservations, including power plants, shopping centers, and golf courses, relationships, intellectual property, or confidential business information – before a dispute arises.

• Advising tribes on financing for Tribal casinos, including negotiation, providing opinion letters, and drafting Tribal ordinances and resolutions required to obtain such financing.

• Securing federal and state approvals requires for Indian gaming, including land-to-trust applications, gaming determinations, tribal ordinance drafting, compact negotiation, negotiation with city and county governments, and National Indian Gaming Commission approval of financing, development and management agreements.

• Securing gaming licenses for vendors and suppliers to tribal casinos.

• Providing legal opinions regarding water supply contracts with tribes, including in connection with project financing efforts.

• Guiding clients in identifying and evaluating options to secure interests in land within and adjacent to reservations, including allotments, restricted lands, tribal trust land, and tribal fee land. This support has been provided in connection with high-voltage transmission lines, utility-scale solar projects, utility-scale wind projects, and utility-scale water infrastructure.

• Advising clients in connection with the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 Compliance, including the negotiation of Programmatic Agreements involving multiple tribes in the desert southwest in connection with a 500+ miles transmission line.

• Negotiating agricultural leases with allottees and tribal governments for tribal trust lands.

• Providing support in connection with the sale and transfer of restricted land and allotted land, including navigating the BIA review, appraisal, and approval process.

• Representing the owner of a gas-fired power plant built on land leased from the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation. The challenge is based on categorical preemption under federal law, including 2013 BIA regulations, of ad valorem property taxes on permanent improvements to leased tribal lands and Bracker preemption of property taxes on real and personal property. Successfully appealed the Arizona Tax Court’s dismissal of the action and currently appealing summary judgment rulings.

• Challenging agency actions affecting Indian tribes and their members in administrative proceedings and federal courts.
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