American Indian Law & Policy

Brownstein’s Indian law attorneys and policy advisors represent tribes and those doing business with tribes, leveraging decades of unparalleled experience in Congress, the executive branch and private practice. We serve as a conduit between businesses investing in Indian country and tribes and their regulatory agencies to facilitate mutually beneficial relationships and ensure that projects move forward. We understand and appreciate tribal sovereignty and complex jurisdictional, legal, legislative, regulatory and contractual issues that arise as part of the relationship between tribes and the United States. We engage the spectrum of stakeholders involved in tribal matters, from executive branch officials in the Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to Congress and state representatives.

Brownstein’s bipartisan Indian Law and Policy practice encompasses a broad range of services, including legal, legislative and administrative matters relating to:

  • Natural Resources, including Endangered Species Act, treaty rights and Alaska issues
  • Tribal Water Rights, including water settlements
  • Tribal Lands, including fee-to-trust, rights of way, jurisdiction, HEARTH Act and leasing
  • Tribal Gaming, including IGRA, Class III gaming compacts and management agreements
  • Energy and Project Development, including traditional and alternative energy sources, mineral leases and TERA
  • Tribal Sovereignty and Self-Determination, including self-governance compacting, 638 contracting, tribal labor sovereignty and tax matters
  • Tribal Financial Services, including lending and Community Development Financial Institutions
  • Indian Health Care
  • Tribal Law Enforcement, including the Tribal Law and Order Act, Violence Against Women Act and PL 280
  • Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Cultural Patrimony, including NAGPRA, historical preservation and sacred sites

With offices throughout the West and in Washington, D.C., we apply our understanding of the political, economic and social ramifications of federal and state governmental actions on Indian tribes to our work for tribes and their business partners.

Contacts
Ryan A. Smith 202.747.0507 rsmith@bhfs.com
Representative Matters
  • Advise the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in its governance of financial services that operate in its jurisdiction. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is a federally-recognized American Indian Tribe located in North Dakota. Its government serves nearly 30,000 members. As an advisor to the Tribal government, Brownstein attorneys draft legislation, regulations, and regulatory guidance. As advisors to the Tribe's Lending Regulatory Commission, Brownstein examines licensees for compliance with the Tribal Lending Code and incorporated federal consumer financial protection laws. The Commission is empowered to enforce the Tribal Lending Code's provisions as necessary.

  • Advise the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana's Lending Regulatory Commission in its consumer protection mission. This includes the enforcement and supervision of Tribal Code and incorporated federal consumer financial protection laws. The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana is a federally-recognized American Indian Tribe. The Lending Regulatory Commission is a tribal agency operating under the Tribe's sovereign authority and empowered to regulate the financial services businesses run from Tunica-Biloxi reserved lands. In her role as a regulator's legal advisor, Brownstein aids in promulgating regulations, reviews licensees for compliance with applicable federal consumer financial protection laws and laws governing financial institutions, and represents the Commissioners within inter-tribal organizations.

  • Advise the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribal Consumer Financial Services Commission in the enforcement and supervision of its Tribal Financial Services Ordinance. The Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake is a federally-recognized American Indian Tribe. Under its sovereign authority, it created a commission to regulate the various financial services businesses that are owned and operated by tribally-owned entities. In her role as a regulator's legal advisor, Sarah reviews licensees for compliance with applicable federal consumer financial protection laws and laws governing financial institutions.

  • Advise three federally-recognized American Indian Tribes’ regulatory commissions on the supervision and enforcement of Tribal Financial Services Codes for financial technology and lending firms under Tribal jurisdiction.

  • Provide general federal representation to the Tribe on matters relating to tribal gaming, lands into trust, and tribal sovereignty.

  • Represent the Navajo Nation in connection with federal legislation to authorize the Navajo Nation's water settlement with the United States and the State of Utah.

  • Successfully represented the White Mountain Apache Tribe in securing federal legislation that would authorization the completion of the several hundred million dollar federal water supply project for the Tribe.

  • Represent Tribe in connection with legislation placing land into trust for the Tribe that was wrongfully terminated

  • Successfully represented a non-profit entity in Endangered Species litigation.

  • Successfully represented the Blackfeet Nation in connection with the Blackfeet Water Rights Settlement Act, which Congress authorized in 2016. The Act ratifies the Tribe's water compact and authorized over $420 million in federal funding for the Tribe's water-related infrastructure projects (P.L. 114-322).

  • Organized and led coalition of third parties to successfully block a federal decision that would have negatively impacted tribal client’s business interests.

  • Provide federal representation to an Indian tribe in connection with the federal legislation, which ratifies the tribe's water compact and authorizes federal funding for the tribe's water-related infrastructure projects. (PL.114-322)

  • Represented Native American tribe before the Bureau of Indian Affairs on an issue related to off-reservation policy and gaming. Also worked with Congressional appropriators to secure support for loan guarantees of economic development projects.

  • Water rights counsel for a resort and golf courses in the Coachella Valley leasing tribal lands in state and federal litigation involving the golf courses' use of groundwater, payment of groundwater replenishments to a local groundwater agency and exercise of Indian reserved water rights.

  • Represented bwin party digital entertainment plc in the California online poker services agreement with United Auburn Indian Community.

  • Represented Global Cash Access, Inc. in connection with its acquisition of Western Money Systems, a manufacturer and distributor of redemption kiosk devices to more than 200 casinos nationwide. Brownstein handled the corporate due diligence materials, drafted and negotiated the stock purchase agreement. The firm handled the gaming and licensing process for Global Cash Access in more than 20 states and 60 Native American tribal nations.

  • Represent a Nevada Indian tribe as outside general counsel. We have represented the tribe in a number of large scale development projects, including the development of a 200 MW concentrated solar project in southern Nevada. Our representation included the negotiation of lease and other agreements with a large renewable energy developer, development of water rights for the project, negotiation with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies, and guiding the tribe through the NEPA process. Legal work also included the development of a sales and use tax regulatory structure for the tribe.

  • Represented Hard Rock Hotel Holdings, LLC in connection with the licensing of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa, an Indian casino owned by the Cherokee Nation, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Hard Rock Casino Albuquerque, an Indian casino owned by the Pueblo of Isleta.

  • Represented a town with substantial groundwater rights in Nevada's Carson River Valley with regard to water rights litigation commenced by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Indians. Litigation included challenges to State Engineer rulings on water right change applications for new development. Cases were filed in both federal district and state district courts and involved issues of jurisdiction and venue in addition to substantive water law. Appeals were filed by the Tribe in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Nevada Supreme Court.

Meet The Team

Ryan A. Smith Shareholder T 202.747.0507 rsmith@bhfs.com
Sarah Walters Counsel T 202.383.4719 swalters@bhfs.com
Lawrence J. Jensen Shareholder T 202.747.0509 ljensen@bhfs.com
Hal Stratton Shareholder T 505.724.9596 hstratton@bhfs.com
Sarah Auchterlonie Shareholder T 303.223.1228 sja@bhfs.com
Milan V. Dalal Of Counsel T 202.383.4709 mdalal@bhfs.com
Allison L. Gambill Of Counsel T 303.223.1175 agambill@bhfs.com
Albert Z. Kovacs Shareholder T 702.464.7076 akovacs@bhfs.com
Stephanie Osler Hastings Shareholder T 805.882.1415 shastings@bhfs.com
Esteban M. Morin Associate T 303.223.1275 emorin@bhfs.com
Travis J. Norton Of Counsel T 202.872.5287 tnorton@bhfs.com