Indian Nations

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Godfrey & Kahn's Indian Nations Law Practice Group supports tribal governments and their attorneys in protecting tribal sovereignty, enhancing tribal self-government and promoting the welfare of tribal members. The firm supports organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in Indian country and avoids asserting legal positions that might diminish tribal sovereignty.

The Indian Nations Law Practice Group provides a full range of legal services to Indian Nations, tribal housing authorities, tribal corporations and other Indian country entities, with a focus on business and economic development, energy and environmental protection, and housing development. Tribal practice areas include:

  • Business and Economic Development – Including advice to tribes and tribal enterprises relating to legal infrastructure (corporate and LLC codes, commercial codes, corporate articles and bylaws, etc.), evaluation of business opportunities (business plans, due diligence investigations, negotiation of acquisitions, etc.) formation of tribal development corporations, and establishment of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other programs for housing and small business loans to members, and state and federal government contracting under 8(a) status
  • Housing Law – Especially development of new housing for rental or ownership by tribal members, leveraging of Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA) block grants with private and public finance sources, establishment of programs to encourage home ownership and development of tribal realty codes, and land records codes and other laws to support home ownership on tribal trust lands
  • Environmental – Including assistance in connection with development of tribal codes and ordinances to protect tribal natural resources, applications for treatment as state status under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, Clean Air Act Class I status, and preparation of environmental assessments and environmental impact statements
  • Energy – Including for-profit energy generation opportunities, green energy development (wind, forest waste, landfill methane, etc.), financing, structuring joint ventures and other development entities, maximizing opportunities under the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act
  • Labor & Employment Law – Including assistance in connection with employee handbooks, employment policies, advice on the applicability of state and federal employment laws, preparation of employment ordinances, strategies to prevent labor union interference with tribal enterprises and employee benefits
  • Finance – Including assistance in connection with conventional bank financing and taxable and tax-exempt bonds issued under the Indian Tribal Governmental Tax Status Act of 1982 for government facilities; health clinics; land acquisition; water, sewer, and other infrastructure; gaming facilities; and other government, public and economic improvements
  • Inter-Governmental Affairs – Including advice in connection with state and federal legislative process; federal and state administrative agencies; and federal and state campaign finance, ethics, election and lobbying laws
  • Intra-Governmental Affairs – Including advice on separation of powers; government structure; administrative organization and assistance in development of tribal laws that advance self-determination, improve stability and enhance sovereignty and confidential internal audits
  • Health – Including advice to tribal clinics on operations, professional contracting, risk management and issues arising under the Self-Determination and Indian Health Care Improvement Acts
  • Tax – Including advice with respect to applicability of, and compliance with, federal and state tax laws; advice on structuring ventures as tribal enterprises as well as structuring ventures with non-tribal entities to take advantage of favorable tax treatment for Indian country enterprises; and representation in disputes with state taxation authorities and advice relating to the structuring of tribal benefit programs under the "general welfare doctrine" to avoid adverse tax consequences
  • Gaming – Including IGRA compliance, certification issues, vendor contract reviews, and trademark and other intellectual property issues
  • Litigation – In tribal, federal and state courts, including treaty rights matters, declaratory actions to prevent improper assertions of regulatory authority by state and local governments and other initiatives to protect tribal sovereignty

The concept of the Godfrey & Kahn Indian Nations Law Practice Group is to combine the firm's experience in Indian and tribal law with the experience of members of the firm's other practice groups (e.g., business, environmental, energy, housing, finance, tax, employment, labor, government law, litigation, real estate and employee benefits) to provide the best possible service to tribal clients. Members of the Indian Nations Law team are selected based on the relevance of their practice to the needs of tribal clients and their willingness to master the Indian and tribal law dimensions of their practice area(s). The firm does draw on the experience of attorneys outside the team when necessary.

Indian Small Business Pro Bono Assistance Program
Generally, tribal members are severely underrepresented among business owners and, more particularly, among businesses who receive business contracts from federal and state government in Wisconsin. As an expression of its commitment to Indian country and as a means of supporting the efforts of tribal governments to promote entrepreneurship among their members, the firm has established a program to provide free legal services to members of tribes wishing to start their own businesses. For more information about the program, click here.