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Indian Nations

Tribal Business and Economic Development

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The economic challenges facing tribes are unique.

Like other governments, tribes must provide housing, health, education and other basic services to members. Unlike other governments, tribes lack a solid tax base from which to fund these services and must rely on a combination of federal funding and revenue from tribal enterprises.

Despite the federal government’s trust obligation, federal appropriations for Indian country have stagnated in recent years, falling far short of meeting the housing, health and other basic needs of tribal members. The welfare of tribal communities depends largely on the ability of tribal governments to find alternative revenue sources. Economic development is, therefore, essential.

Godfrey & Kahn’s Indian Nations Practice Group combines the specialized expertise of the firm’s attorneys with knowledge of federal Indian law and extensive Indian country experience to help tribes achieve their economic development goals while protecting and enhancing tribal sovereignty. The firm’s Indian country economic development experience includes assisting tribes in connection with:

  • Establishment of the legal infrastructure required for economic development, including drafting of corporate, commercial and other business ordinances that encourage business while respecting sovereignty;
  • Assistance in the preparation of business development plans that serve as a “road map” for economic development and provide a basis for tribes to pursue business opportunities proactively rather than responding to proposals initiated by outside parties;
  • Design and implementation of due diligence procedures for the thorough evaluation of business opportunities to assure that the tribe does not invest funds in a project with little likelihood of success;
  • Structuring of tribally-owned corporations or limited liability companies that provide for management by experienced business people and independence from tribal politics while, at the same time, assuring accountability to elected leaders through checks and balances;
  • Advice with respect to the differing tax, regulatory and sovereignty issues that arise depending upon whether a tribe forms a tribal corporation or limited liability companies under tribal law, state law or Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act;
  • Effective use of federal and state laws designed to encourage economic development in Indian country, including laws that give preference to tribally-owned businesses in competing for state and federal contracts and tax advantages available to outside parties that partner with tribes;
  • Representation in acquisitions, joint ventures, financing and other business transactions to assure that the tribe’s sovereign interests are protected, that assets at risk are limited and that appropriate exit strategies are in place; and
  • Serving as a general resource of business information and services by bringing tribes together with bankers, venture capitalists, finance specialists, accounting firms and other business consultants and service providers within Godfrey & Kahn’s broad network of business relationships.
Brian Pierson

Pierson, Brian L.

Of Counsel

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