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, the Federal Communications Commission 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
  • Broadband availability on tribal lands
  • 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.

Representative Matters
  • Perform on-site supervision and examination as an outside financial services regulator for federally-recognized American Indian Tribes. Tribes are sovereigns that must have their own government regulators to make sure business operations within their boundaries are legal and safe. Sarah and her team go on-site, review documents and data, and interview employees of tribal lenders to examine and report on their compliance with tribal consumer protection laws, which often incorporate TILA, EFTA, GLBA, MLA, UDAAP, FDCPA, FCRA, OFAC regulations, the Red-Flags Rule, and specific tribal laws and regulations enacted by each sovereign. In her role as a regulator, Sarah requires tribal lenders to change practices that pose the risk of violating the law or cause consumer harm. With her advice, commissions issue regulatory guidance and can enforce violations of law with injunctive relief or civil money penalties.

  • Act as outside financial services regulator for federally-recognized American Indian Tribes. Tribes are sovereigns that must have their own government regulators to make sure business operations within their boundaries are legal and safe. Sarah and her team use her experience standing up the CFPB to stand-up regulatory commissions with similar supervision and enforcement authorities as the CFPB and state departments of finance. This work ensures that tribal lender consumers receive the same regulatory protections as state-licensed lenders and that tribal governments exercise control and direction of their economic development projects.

  • 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 authorize 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.

  • Representation of city in the negotiation and drafting of special legislation to amend the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to address unique local circumstances. The legislation was adopted. The matter involved complex water rights, tribal rights and groundwater management issues.

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Meet The Team

Ryan A. Smith Shareholder T 202.747.0507 rsmith@bhfs.com
Sarah Walters Counsel T 202.383.4719 swalters@bhfs.com
Michael H. Pryor Shareholder T 202.383.4706 mpryor@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
Lawrence J. Jensen Shareholder T 202.747.0509 ljensen@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