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Indian Nations

Indian Nations Overview

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Our mission is to support tribal governments and their attorneys in protecting tribal sovereignty, enhancing tribal self-government and promoting the welfare of tribal members.

The Indian Nations 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 (1) business and economic development, (2) environmental protection, (3) renewable energy development and (4) 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, 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.
  • Energy Development, with a special focus on financing renewable energy with state and federal grants and partnerships with investors to take advantage of renewable energy tax credits; as well as the development of legal infrastructure to support renewable energy development.
  • Environmental Protection, including assistance in connection with development of tribal water quality standards 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.
  • 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 and other government, public and economic improvements.
  • 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.
  • Housing, especially development of new housing for rental or ownership by tribal members, leveraging of NAHASDA block grants with low income housing tax credit and other private and public finance sources, establishment of programs to encourage home ownership and development of tribal realty codes, including HEARTH-compliant leasing ordinances, land records codes and other laws to support home ownership on tribal trust lands.
  • Inter-Governmental Affairs, including representation before federal and state administrative agencies, defense of federal and state regulatory enforcement actions, advice in connection with state and federal legislative process, and advice on federal and state campaign finance, ethics, election and lobbying laws.
  • Intra-Governmental Affairs, including development of tribal laws that advance self-determination; improve stability and enhance sovereignty, performance of confidential internal audits by the firms’ White Collar Defense & Investigations Practice Group and representation of tribal election boards and ethics boards.
  • Labor & Employment, including assistance in connection with employee handbooks, employment policies, advice on the applicability of state and federal employment laws, preparation of employment ordinances and training in strategies to prevent labor union interference with tribal enterprises and employee benefits.
  • 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 and advance tribes’ business interests.
  • Real Estate Development, including establishment of policies for acquisitions, acquisition due diligence procedures, acquisition-related finance, and environmental reviews, Fee to Trust, HEARTH Act ordinances, commercial leasing, affordable housing and conservation trusts.
  • Tax, including advice with respect to applicability of, and compliance with, federal and state tax laws; tax audit defense, 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 advice relating to the structuring of tribal benefit programs under the 'general welfare doctrine.'

The basic concept of Godfrey & Kahn's Indian Nations Practice Group is to combine the firm’s expertise in Indian law and tribal law with the expertise 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 Practice Group are selected based on the relevance of their practice to the needs of tribal clients and their ability to master the Indian and tribal law dimensions of their practice area. The firm draws on the expertise of attorneys outside the team as necessary.

Our mission

The mission of the Indian Nations Practice Group is to support tribal governments in protecting tribal sovereignty, enhancing tribal self-government, and promoting the welfare of tribal members. We do this by combining the depth and breadth of specialized legal services available at a 160-lawyer law firm with (1) extensive knowledge and experience of federal Indian law and tribal law, (2) a team approach designed to assure responsiveness and accountability, and (3) a commitment to Indian country.

Our team consists of a core team of attorneys specialized in federal Indian law and tribal law and additional attorneys who specialize in their separate practice areas (business, finance, environment, energy, employment, labor, employee benefits, tax, health care, government affairs, real estate, housing and litigation) but who have also invested the time necessary to learn the Indian law and tribal law dimensions of their practice. This team approach is designed to deliver the highest quality legal services possible to our tribal clients. The firm demonstrates its commitment to Indian country through:

  • Supporting tribal leaders and attorneys by providing, free of charge, a monthly legal update
  • Sponsoring legal workshops and conferences to keep clients current in Indian law developments
  • Avoiding representation of entities in matters that whose interests are adverse to tribal sovereignty
  • Providing pro bono representation of tribally-owned startup businesses through the First American Capital Corporation/G&K Native business assistance program
  • Representation of nonprofits devoted to the advancement of economic development, housing, environmental protection and cultural preservation in Indian country
  • Supporting scholarship programs for Indian students
Michael Apfeld

Apfeld, Michael B.

Of Counsel
Marvin Bynum

Bynum, Marvin C. II

John Clancy

Clancy, John L.

Todd Cleary

Cleary, Todd M.

Brett Koeller

Koeller, Brett D.

Andrew Oettinger

Oettinger, Andrew S.

Brian Pierson

Pierson, Brian L.

Of Counsel
Jonathan Smies

Smies, Jonathan T.

Green Bay
Timothy Smith

Smith, Timothy C.


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