Native American Law

Native American Law

Throughout Oklahoma and in states from California to Iowa and Missouri, Doerner represents tribal councils and business committees on governance and economic development issues related to their sovereign entity status. We have advised all the major Oklahoma tribes since the state’s tribal governments began major reorganizations in the late 1970s, and today assist tribes of all sizes in structuring their bylaws and codes, resolving inter- and intra-tribal disputes and administering their court systems.

As tribes continue to expand gaming and non-gaming business enterprises, Doerner lawyers offer innovative advice on structuring trust ownership arrangements, arranging bond and other financing, and dealing with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and relevant state agencies. We have set up tribal gaming ordinances, negotiated pre-opening agreements for casinos and handled everything from labor agreements to contracts and licenses with gaming companies and suppliers.

Our firm understands that the economic interests of each tribe, and each company doing business in Indian Country, are unique, and effectively identifies common ground where all parties can achieve their objectives. Tribal governments rely on Doerner for sophisticated representation that respects their sovereign status.  In emerging issues such as payday lending, water rights and renewable energy generation, we help tribes, businesses and regulators balance legal and economic concerns.

Increasingly, tribes are investing in their own economic development, and Doerner provides the insights to structure trust arrangements and establish joint ventures that advance tribal interests. Our lawyers are diligent in protecting the interests of smaller tribes as well as major tribal entities; and having expanded our practice as tribal governments have evolved, we work as partners with tribal clients to respect traditional values while seizing new opportunities.

Recent Doerner Experience

  • Represented Indian tribes in all facets of the development and opening of a casino, including negotiating the financing and pre-opening agreement, drafting and submitting tribal gaming ordinances to the NIGC, and handling federal and state regulatory issues.
  • Acted on behalf of gaming machine vendors in negotiating lease agreements with Indian tribes and casinos.
  • Served as counsel to Indian tribes in litigation against fiduciaries for violation of fiduciary duties and conversion of tribal funds.
  • Provided advice and counsel to tribal leaders in intra-tribal election disputes.
  • Offered guidance to Indian tribes concerning their 638 programs to provide federal health, education and other services to tribal members.
  • Counseled Indian tribes on sensitive issues such as payday lending and tobacco compacts with state government.

Top Areas of Focus

  • Representation of tribes and gaming companies before federal and state gaming commissions, as well as company representation before tribal gaming commissions.
  • Assistance with all aspects of gaming operations, including tribal codes, labor and employment, management, revenue allocation and taxation.
  • Facilitation of on and off-reservation construction and real estate development, including related financing, trust and contractual issues.
  • Protection of tribal, environmental, natural resources and water rights.
  • Defense of Indian tribes in tort and contract litigation in state, federal, and tribal courts, including matters related to waiver of sovereign immunity.
  • Advice on federal incentives for tribal businesses, including renewable energy, infrastructure development and financial services.

Case Study: Structuring Trusts to Facilitate Tribal Economic Development

  • Opportunity: Although all tribal lands in Indian Country are held in trust for the tribes, federal law also allows tribal governments to establish trust structures to facilitate gaming and other business activities.  However, the process for trust establishment is complex and subject to multiple legal regimes, including those of the NIGC when gaming facilities are involved.
  • Solution: Doerner has nearly 25 years of experience in helping tribal governments establish trusts on and off tribal reservations.  We help tribes streamline the process for trust establishment, not only to set up gaming operations but also for other purposes, such as the purchase of real estate for investment. Our lawyers handle all aspects of the trust structure, including the governance and tax issues involved.
  • Result: In one of our most recent representations, we helped one of Oklahoma’s largest tribal governments to establish a trust arrangement so that the tribe could purchase an entire shopping, restaurant and office center out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The purchase of the foreclosed property through a trust arrangement allowed the tribe to add to its nearby land holdings and expand economic development opportunities for its members.

Take Action

Investors and entrepreneurs are showing unprecedented interest in commercial development projects involving Native American tribes.  Doerner partners with tribal governments and business entities to help pursue modern, sustainable economic development that respects tribal traditions and rights.  Our decades of experience in Indian Country means we understand the unique interplay of tribal legal structures and federal regulation, and know the best ways for both to work together in business collaborations that benefit everyone involved.

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Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca represents clients primarily in labor and employment
litigation and counsels clients regarding everyday employment matters. 

Oklahoma Employer's Law Blog

 


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