Practice/Industry Group Overview
Greenberg Traurig provides multidisciplinary legal representation to Native American tribal governments and associated entities, as well as to private and public institutions that do business with Indian tribes or invest in Indian country. Our work in this area encompasses litigation and dispute resolution, corporate/transactional counsel and governmental affairs representation. Our commitment to the Native community is unique. GT is the first major law firm in the United States to adopt a statement in support of tribal sovereignty in its relationships with Indian tribes and nations. This statement outlines our dedication to the integrity of Native American and indigenous peoples and reflects the unique GT culture that helps set our firm apart.
Statement in Support of Tribal Sovereignty
GT’s American Indian Law Practice:
- Recognizes and respects the inherent sovereignty of tribal governments, pre-dating the formation of the United States and the U.S. Constitution, as well as the inherent rights of indigenous Americans
- Recognizes and respects tribal courts, tribal legal systems and tribal law
- Recognizes tribal court decisions as carrying the same binding authority as state or federal court decisions
- Recognizes tribal law as the supreme law of tribal courts
- Recognizes that Native American traditional religious beliefs and sacred sites are of paramount importance to tribes and should be afforded every possible consideration
- Commits, whenever possible, to include choice of tribal law and tribal forum in contracts
- 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
- 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 for tribal sovereignty that GT 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 tribal government or tribal governmental 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 Americans and tribal affairs.
Energy, Environmental & Natural Resources
Our team has wide-ranging experience with energy and infrastructure development on tribal lands. This includes regulatory compliance, permitting, traditional and alternative energy project development and diligence, tribal legislation, and dispute resolution and litigation before tribal, federal and state courts and administrative agencies. GT attorneys also have vast experience with tribal oil and gas, coal, and other mining development, including negotiation and preparation of exploration and development agreements, leasing, navigating requisite federal approvals, and development of tribal joint ventures.
Our attorneys also have considerable experience in dealing with tribal governments on energy-related infrastructure projects. This includes the effective implementation of both tribal and federal environmental and workplace programs in Indian country, as well as negotiations related to rights-of-way, site leases, and tribal and federal approval processes.
In addition, our attorneys have significant experience in protecting tribal resources. This includes wide-ranging involvement in prosecuting tribal treaty fishing rights cases, mediation of resource-based disputes with neighboring sovereigns, and development of tribal resource-protection codes for tribal fisheries, hunting and gathering resources, forestry and minerals resources. Our attorneys have also advocated before international bodies in connection with tribal resource protection matters.
Corporate Counsel & Gaming Law
Indian gaming is the single largest sector of casino gaming in the United States – larger than Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. GT provides counsel to tribes on Indian gaming and related corporate and financial matters, and also advises bondholders and lenders with investments in Indian 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 experience also includes high-level government affairs support for tribal-state compact negotiations.
More generally, GT 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 considerations, taxation, judicial enforcement, and the availability of arbitration and mediation.
Tax, Benefits & Employment Law
GT’s American Indian Law Practice also focuses on tax, benefits and employment-related matters involving Indian tribes and organizations doing business with them. As with private and public companies, Indian 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 tribal governments often employ both 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. GT attorneys have both the broad employment law knowledge and American Indian law experience to help our clients navigate such unique legal scenarios.
Tribal Law Enforcement, Public Safety and Judicial Systems
Members of GT's American Indian Law Practice have worked extensively with Indian tribes in their development of public safety-related programs. This includes assisting with criminal and civil tribal codes and regulations; creating law enforcement and judicial training programs for tribal officials in substantive legal and policy areas such as jurisdiction and officer liability; support for various federal grant programs; 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.