Practice/Industry Group Overview
Greenberg Traurig provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary legal and governmental affairs representation to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian governments, associated enterprises and other entities, as well as to private and public institutions that do business with Indian Tribes and Nations or invest in Indian country.
Our practice encompasses litigation and dispute resolution; corporate and transactional structuring; advice and counsel; banking and finance; civil and criminal investigations and compliance; and governmental affairs representation at the tribal, state and federal level.
A Commitment to Respecting Tribal Sovereignty
Our commitment to Native Nations is unique. Greenberg Traurig is the first leading global law firm to adopt a statement in support of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These core principles guide our approach to respecting Native governments and institutions. Greenberg Traurig’s American Indian Law Practice:
- Recognizes and respects the inherent sovereignty of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian governments, pre-dating the formation of the United States and the U.S. Constitution;
- Recognizes and respects tribal courts and legal systems as carrying the same binding authority as state or federal judicial decisions, while respecting tribal law as the supreme law of tribal courts;
- Recognizes that American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian traditional spiritual beliefs and sacred sites are of paramount importance to Native Nations and should be afforded every possible consideration;
- Commits, whenever possible, to include choice of tribal law and tribal forum in contracts; and
- Pledges not to pursue or advocate for Congressional, administrative or judicial decisions which seek to do, or would have the effect of doing, any of the following, without the consent of the affected tribe(s):
- Remove or minimize a tribe’s authority to make governmental decisions;
- Oppose the fundamental inherent existence of a tribe’s government;
- Diminish a tribe’s territorial boundaries;
- Remove or minimize tribal governmental civil or criminal jurisdiction; or
- Remove or minimize tribal governmental taxing or regulatory authority.
We recognize that each of these areas is part of the essential bundle of tribal rights and that protecting these basic hallmarks of sovereignty is essential to the respect that Greenberg Traurig embraces. Nothing in the above policy shall have the effect of limiting the pursuit of the resolution of legitimate disputes on the substance of the law against a Native government or entity, or making legitimate subject matter or personal jurisdiction arguments. Any ambiguity in interpreting this policy should be read in favor of strengthening tribal governmental sovereignty.
In addition to adopting such a policy statement, our American Indian Law Practice reinforces the firm’s longstanding commitment to pro bono work within the context of Native Nations.
The Greenberg Traurig Team: Unmatched Experience
Greenberg Traurig’s American Indian Law Practice has decades of professional experience handling complex litigation, commercial and governmental affairs matters involving American Indian, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Our team has been consistently rated both by the Chambers USA Guide and U.S. News & World Report as Band 3 ranked practice. Individual team members are likewise top-ranked by Chambers, Best Lawyers in America, and Super Lawyers and other publications. The group consists of more than a dozen lawyers who practice Indian Law nearly exclusively, including numerous Native American attorneys. Members include:
- The Chair of the Indian Law and Order Commission (the national advisory commission to the President and U.S. Congress on justice issues) – created by the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 – concerning all 566 federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native Nations.
- The 2011-2013 Chair of the Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section.
- A member of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s national advisory committee on oil and gas matters affecting tribal nations.
- The former Governmental Affairs/Legislative Counsel for the National Congress of American Indians.
- A former Attorney General for the Ute Indian Tribe.
- A member of the Advisory Board of the American Law Institute’s Restatement of the Law Third, The Law of American Indians Project.
- The former Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
- A former Counselor to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
The Greenberg Traurig team has amassed impressive credentials litigating complex cases in federal, tribal and state courts, as well as handling arbitration matters before the American Arbitration Association and FINRA. This includes administrative, trial and appellate advocacy on behalf of tribes, or clients dealing with Native governments and enterprises. In recent years, Greenberg Traurig team members have represented clients before numerous federal departments and agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, as well as numerous other bodies. We also practice before various U.S. district courts and the U.S. courts of appeals; write petitions and amicus briefs for the Supreme Court of the United States, and various state supreme courts; and engage in extensive tribal administrative, trial and appellate court advocacy.
Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources
The Greenberg Traurig team has wide-ranging experience with energy and infrastructure development on native lands. This includes regulatory compliance; permitting; traditional and alternative energy projects, infrastructure development and due diligence; tribal legislation; dispute resolution; and litigation before tribal, federal and state courts and administrative agencies. Greenberg Traurig attorneys also have years of experience in dealing with complex matters involving tribal oil and gas, coal, and other mineral development, including mining, involving negotiation and preparation of exploration and development agreements, leasing, Tribal Employment Rights Ordinances and the structuring and development of tribal joint ventures to comply with tribal, federal and state laws. We also have unmatched expertise in compliance and litigation concerning the various federal environmental and cultural resource protection laws that often apply to these projects, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, for example.
Our attorneys are well-known throughout Indian country, as well as in Public Law 93-280 states, as boots-in-the-dirt lawyers who "walk the walk" when it comes to representing and dealing effectively with Native governments. We have years of experience in handling federally permitted projects, such as pipelines and transmission lines on Tribal lands, including the negotiating right-of-way consent agreements. We also provide water rights advice and counsel. Additionally, the Greenberg Traurig team is experienced in protecting and developing tribal resources. This includes tribal and federal mineral leasing and lease assignments; such as prosecuting tribal treaty fishing rights cases; mediating resource-based disputes affecting tribal, state and federal governmental departments and agencies, and developing tribal resource-protection codes for water, fisheries, subsistence resources and forestry. Additionally, our attorneys have also advocated before international bodies in connection with tribal resource protection matters.
Corporate Counsel and Gaming Law
Indian gaming is the single largest sector of casino gaming in the United States – larger than Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. Greenberg Traurig provides counsel to tribes on all aspects of Indian gaming and related corporate and financial matters, and also advises bondholders and lenders with investments in gaming operations. That experience ranges from small-scale transactions to all financing and securities matters associated with a $1 billion gaming acquisition, including a $525 million Rule 144A offering of high-yield notes and a syndicated bank loan. We have many years of experience in facilitating high-yield debt transactions involving tribal entities. That experience includes representation of issuers, underwriters, and sponsors in such transactions and preparation of commitment letters for issuers. Our broad expertise also includes high-level government affairs support for tribal-state compact negotiations. More generally, Greenberg Traurig provides corporate counsel and litigation services in connection with a wide range of tribal enterprises and assets, and with respect to development projects on and near tribal lands. This includes issues related to tribes’ sovereign immunity, jurisdictional and forum selection considerations, taxation, judicial enforcement and the availability of arbitration and mediation.
Tribal Banking and Finance
Greenberg Traurig has one of the broadest and deepest practices in the United States in support of tribal sovereign banking and consumer lending services. We represent tribal entities as well as a wide range of financial institutions, including third-party payment processors and service providers, in compliance matters under tribal, state and federal law, as well as related government affairs activities.
Labor/Employment and Benefits Law and Taxation
Greenberg Traurig’s American Indian Law Practice also focuses on sophisticated tax, benefits and labor/employment-related matters involving Indian tribes and organizations doing business with them. As with private and public companies, tribal governments often employ large numbers of employees and maintain many types of benefit plans for their employees, including qualified retirement plans (defined contribution and defined benefit), nonqualified deferred compensation plans, welfare benefit plans (medical, dental, vision, life, disability and severance) and cafeteria plans. Because these governments often employ governmental employees and non-governmental employees (in their for-profit businesses), these plans have special issues to address. In addition, the Internal Revenue Code and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) have many special provisions for tribal government plans.
In addition to tax and benefits issues, questions often arise with respect to whether certain employment laws apply to tribal governments. Another level of complexity is the dual role of tribal employees in hiring governmental employees and non-governmental employees. To complicate matters more, some employees perform both governmental and non-governmental functions, yet are paid by the same employer. Issues may also emerge relating to employee preferences. Greenberg Traurig attorneys have both the broad employment law knowledge and American Indian law experience to help our clients navigate such unique legal scenarios.
In the natural resource and energy development context, Greenberg Traurig attorneys are also well-versed in tax litigation matters concerning non-Indian activity on Native trust lands. For instance, the firm has represented tribal governments in oil and gas-related taxation matters in federal district and circuit courts, as well as petitions for certiorari before the Supreme Court of the United States. Greenberg Traurig also represented the Council of Energy Resource Tribes, a coalition of energy-producing Indian nations focused on obtaining more favorable tax treatment for energy development on tribal lands.
Tribal Law Enforcement, Public Safety and Judicial Systems
Members of Greenberg Traurig's American Indian Law Practice have worked with Native Nations in their development of public safety-related programs and their judicial systems. This includes assisting with criminal and civil tribal codes and regulations; creating law enforcement and judicial training programs for tribal governmental officials in substantive legal and policy areas such as jurisdiction and officer liability; support for various federal grant programs; advising tribal human services departments; the implementation of federal mandates such as the Adam Walsh Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act; and Bureau of Indian Affairs' Section 638 contracts relating to tribal courts, corrections, law enforcement and other programs. Our experience also includes coordinating with federal, state and local governments to enhance policing, investigative support and emergency back-up and response.