Indian Law

  • Holland & Knight's Indian Law Practice Group has a thorough understanding of the legal challenges facing Native American Indian tribes, from sovereign immunity and financing to the development and operation of hotels, clinics, retail centers, energy, production, casinos, infrastructure and utilities.
  • We help our Indian law clients fully consider and resolve the wide variety of tribal, state and federal legal issues.
  • We literally wrote the book on Indian gaming. The Indian Gaming Handbook™, the definitive guide to legal requirements under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, is now in its sixth edition and is widely used throughout the Indian gaming community and by tribal, state and federal regulatory agencies.
  • Our Indian law group has helped shape Indian Self-Determination and Tribal Self-Governance policies, and regularly advises clients on ways to improve the law and practice of tribal program administration.

With a deep understanding and respect for the traditional values that set tribes apart, Holland & Knight’s Indian Law Practice Group is committed to providing tribal governments with the same high quality of legal representation demanded by other governments and international corporations – the kind of service tribes require to protect their sovereignty and to prosper in today’s and tomorrow’s world.

Our Indian Law Practice Group utilizes the diverse talents of our attorneys and other professionals to protect tribal sovereignty and resources, develop reservation economies and infrastructure, preserve basic human rights, such as access to health care, and enhance tribal governance and business structures. We understand the challenges tribes face, and are able to provide full-service, “one-stop” legal and strategic advice and counsel on all of the critical issues.

Our Commitment

Holland & Knight’s Indian Law Practice Group is a team of more than 20 highly experienced attorneys and government specialists devoted to the unique needs of tribal governments and the complex field of Indian law. From sovereign immunity to financing, hotel, retail, energy, casino, infrastructure and utility development, Holland & Knight’s Indian Law Practice Group offers clients the resources of experienced Indian law practitioners combined with the diverse talents of more than 1,000 lawyers in every other discipline necessary to provide comprehensive services in the field of Indian law and tribal economic development.

Our Indian Law Practice Group includes:

  • Former members of Congress,
  • Former Congressional staff and officials from important state agencies, and
  • Attorneys who have developed national reputations as experts in the field of Indian law.

Both collectively and individually, members of our Group are uniquely qualified to assist clients in achieving their goals in this important, rapidly growing and challenging field.

Federal and State Government Relations/Advocacy

Events that unfold in the federal Executive Branch and Congress, as well as in state governments, often have a profound and long-lasting effect upon Indian tribes. Recognizing this reality, our Indian Law Practice Group maintains a visible presence in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals, including California, New York, Florida, and elsewhere. We provide clients with an ideal combination of prominent lawyers and lobbyists who have a comprehensive understanding of the legislative, regulatory, and budgetary processes and who are leading experts in the fields of gaming, tax, labor, self-governance, energy and the environment, trust land, and other current Federal-Indian policy areas.

Because of our strength in government relations and litigation, we easily turn to those tools where regulatory compliance efforts do not achieve tribal client goals.  By coordinating and executing effective strategies, we have helped clients:

  • Defeat threatened taxation of tribal revenues,
  • Obtain millions of dollars in appropriations and other benefits,
  • Structure and negotiate complex financing deal approvals involving hundreds of millions of dollars in connection with gaming, resort and other economic development projects,
  • Gain federal approval of trust land acquisitions, and
  • Fight cuts and advocate increases in Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Justice and Indian Health Service budgets.

Collaboration is a hallmark of our federal and state advocacy. We work closely with other firms, and with state and federal coalitions and caucuses, to increase support for the interests of our tribal clients.

Land Use & Development

Environment and Natural Resources Practice

Holland & Knight provides its tribal clients with expert advice, litigation, and government representation in all areas of environmental and natural resources law. We have unparalleled experience assisting new and established tribal developments to navigate the maze of federal environmental regulations and permit requirements. Having served as staff in Congress and federal agencies, several of our attorneys have an intimate knowledge of the environmental statutes and regulations that they now put to work for tribal clients. This includes application of tribal, federal, and – where applicable – state environmental laws such as:

  • The National Environmental Policy Act,
  • The Energy Policy Act of 2005,
  • The Endangered Species Act,
  • The Clean Air Act,
  • The Clean Water Act,
  • Wetlands, tidelands and river protection acts, and
  • Brownfields redevelopment and hazardous waste control and cleanup.

Holland & Knight also assists tribes in drafting, implementing and enforcing laws to protect and manage tribal natural resources and the environment, which efforts we believe are an essential expression of tribal sovereignty. For example, we have unmatched experience with the development of tribal environmental laws to displace application of federal regulations in Indian Country. Our attorneys have supported scores of tribal environmental programs to protect tribal natural resources such as, timber, minerals, fish and game, and water from over-exploitation, while at the same time improving the business environment in Indian Country by replacing federal regulations with streamlined, predictable tribal regulation.

Where on- or off-reservation tribal resources are threatened by off-reservation activities, we bring to bear the skills of our many environmental attorneys who work outside of Indian Country to protect those resources under local, state and federal environmental and historic protections laws, in addition to federal Indian law. We also negotiate on our clients’ behalf on a government-to-government basis with cities, states or the federal government to achieve protection of tribal resources. Because we are equally at home working outside of Indian Country, we can also assist tribes with projects that they pursue outside of tribal lands.

Energy and Utility Practices

Over the years, Holland & Knight’s lawyers have played a significant role in developing and protecting tribal energy and utility resources. Our efforts in federal representation, business development and litigation in these areas place us in a unique position to address a tribe’s immediate needs and to develop its strategies for the future. We provide a wide range of services to tribes in energy-related fields. In the oil and gas area, we have represented tribal utilities, pipeline and local distribution facilities, and natural gas marketing and gas-fired power plant projects among others. In the electric area, because we have represented power producers, generators, investor-owned utilities, tribes and others, we have a deep understanding of the issues faced by tribes in developing their resources. Our experience includes power plant siting and construction; transmission siting and construction; ratemaking, drafting and negotiation of power purchase agreements; and power marketing.

We have also assisted tribes in evaluating the relationship of water, gas, electric and communications utilities, and helped them to coordinate and plan the development of infrastructure associated with these resources.

Water Law

We have substantial experience in the litigation and settlement of water rights disputes and matters relating to the development and utilization of water infrastructure. This includes representing tribal governments in water rights disputes with the federal government, as well as with state and local governments, districts, and others who claim competing interests. We are also experienced in assisting tribes in such areas as water planning, the creation of tribal water quality and wastewater policies and ordinances, and the construction and licensing of hydroelectric projects.

Our tribal clients routinely draw upon our comprehensive capabilities in water law – litigation; permitting; enforcement; finance; water system development and operations; water use planning and development; storm water management; and regulatory matters, rulemaking and legislation.

Litigation Practice

Our goal is to provide value to our tribal clients through effective and tough litigation representation at the same high level of advocacy enjoyed by some of the world’s largest corporations, nonprofits and governmental agencies.

Holland & Knight’s Litigation Section is one of the largest, most powerful practices in the country, and has a proud history of protecting tribal sovereignty. Comprised of trial and appellate lawyers accomplished in all substantive areas of the law, this Section has handled cases on matters such as enforcing federal trust responsibilities, gaming management contracts, jurisdictional conflicts, the protecting real property rights, and pursuing and protecting a wide variety of tribal commercial rights. Our litigation infrastructure and resources support large, complex cases, enabling us to protect and preserve the rights of tribes, regardless of complexity, for generations to come.

Indian Gaming

We have been involved in dozens of casino, hotel and resort developments, representing tribes from the earliest planning stages through project opening, operations and regulation. Our tribal gaming practice is an important part of the comprehensive service – advice, counseling, negotiation and representation at the federal and state levels – we provide for all of a tribe’s legal needs.

In gaming development projects, we typically participate in all phases of the project, including:

  • Negotiating Tribal-State Compacts,
  • Selecting the project site, including jurisdictional, fee-to-trust, Indian lands determinations, and development issues under tribal, state and federal law,
  • Structuring project financing (loans, bonds or other forms),
  • Planning and construction, including the preparation of appropriate development and construction documentation,
  • Advising on the impact of tribal, local, state and federal land use and environmental laws,
  • Obtaining federal and state regulatory clearances or approvals,
  • Advising on water, power, and other utility needs, particularly legal requirements involved in dealing with water and other utility companies or districts, and in developing tribal energy resources to reduce dependency on outside utilities, and
  • Structuring ancillary investments and facilities.

We help our clients give due consideration to and resolve all plausible tribal, state and federal legal issues.

Tribal Gaming Commissions. Another important component of our Indian gaming practice is our ability to create, train and provide unique legal services to tribal gaming commissions. We routinely advise tribal gaming commissions on gaming regulatory issues, such as the preparation of gaming ordinances and tribal gaming commission policies and procedures, including licensing, investigation and hearing procedures, complying with compact requirements, and the development of internal control and Bank Secrecy Act compliance and auditing programs. We also mediate issues that sometimes arise among administration, casino management and tribal gaming commissions, and provide training on the critical role each entity has in the successful and reliable regulation and operation of Indian gaming. In addition, we publish the Indian Gaming Handbook,™ which is widely used throughout the Indian gaming community and by tribal, state and federal regulatory agencies. Jerome L. Levine, the Holland & Knight Indian Law Practice Group Leader, edits this definitive guide to legal requirements under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which is now in its sixth edition.

Taxation and Employee Benefits Practice

Holland & Knight leads the field in providing tax and employee benefits advice to Indian tribal governments and tribal organizations. We draw on our wealth of experience in providing practical solutions to cutting edge problems. Members of our firm have substantial experience regarding federal, state and tribal tax issues, and have assisted in drafting many of the federal Indian tax policy provisions that have been enacted in the past 20 years, and in lobbying for the other provisions that await enactment.

Federal Tax Issues. We currently advise a large number of Indian tribal governments on federal tax compliance. Recent federal tax projects include:

  • Drafting minor's trust agreements, deferred per capita plans and tribal executive compensation and retirement plans,
  • Advising on the tax treatment of tribal benefit plans (health, education, housing, eldercare and similar social welfare programs),
  • Advising on federal employment tax issues that have arisen in the context of IRS audits,
  • Providing opinions on federal income and excise tax issues, and
  • Advising on withholding and reporting obligations relevant to gaming issues.

Another major focus of our federal tax practice involves preparation of regulatory comments on tax issues relevant to tribal governments, such as the requirements for tribal bond financing and the tax treatment of tribal enterprises and pension plans.

State Tax Issues. We also have experience handling a variety of state tax issues, particularly in California. We have advised clients on the scope of state taxing authority over on-reservation activities, and how to structure transactions to take fullest advantage of federal preemption doctrines. We serve as outside counsel to the National Congress of American Indians on the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, a movement to impose a uniform scheme of state taxation over remote and Internet sales.

Tribal Tax Issues. We have advised tribes on the scope of tribal taxation authority over activities and property interests on Indian lands. We also assist tribes to formulate their own tax codes in order to generate revenues from sales, leases, hotel room rentals and other sources.

Tribal Economic Development

Business and Corporate Organization

We are frequently asked by our tribal clients to assist them in establishing business ventures and structuring business entities, such as LLCs, various types of corporations, and partnerships or other joint ventures. Such projects involve tax, financing, governance, sovereign immunity and other liability issues that our team of transactional Indian law specialists is well prepared to handle. Recent projects in this area have included the following:

  • Drafted Section 17 corporate charters and provided advice on the BIA charter approval and ratification process,
  • Analyzed the relative merits of using a joint venture or a participating lease arrangement to operate a restaurant and other businesses adjacent to a tribe's casino,
  • Secured an IRS private letter ruling confirming the tax treatment of a tribal law corporation structured as an "integral part" of the tribe,
  • Obtained BIA and IRS recognition of the political subdivision status of a tribal economic development authority after assisting in the formation of the new entity,
  • Advised on the structuring of a tribal insurance company, and
  • Structured joint ventures for various purposes, including the operation of a tribal energy venture and the establishment of a tribally-controlled firm qualifying for SBA 8(a) contracting preferences.

One of our team members is the co-author of Tribal Business Structure Handbook, a publication funded by a grant from the Department of Interior's Division of Indian Energy and Economic Development.

Project Financing

Holland & Knight is a nationally recognized bond firm. The firm has participated in governmental debt issues since the 1960s. Holland & Knight has consistently ranked among the top bond and disclosure/underwriter's counsel firms in the U.S. based on principal amount of bonds issued, according to statistics compiled by Thomson Financial Securities Data. The Firm has been listed in The Bond Buyer's Municipal Marketplace (the "Red Book") since 1975.

Holland & Knight has been a leader in many innovative and creative financings and has significant experience in all areas of public finance and municipal securities, including:

  • The issuance of variable rate bonds, commercial paper and other interim financing programs,
  • Puts and calls,
  • Liquidity and credit enhanced financings,
  • Zero coupon bonds, stepped coupon bonds, and original issue discount bonds,
  • Sale/leaseback transactions,
  • Public-private partnerships, 
  • Swaps and other derivative financial products, and
  • A variety of other financing techniques.

During the past five years, our attorneys have served as bond counsel, disclosure counsel, underwriter's counsel or in other/multiple roles as counsel for more than $25.6 billion in principal amount of debt, including tribal bond and related financing transactions.

Probate & Estate Planning 

The Holland & Knight Private Wealth Services Group is the largest, most experienced group of trusts and estates lawyers in the United States. We are nationally recognized in many diverse areas related to trusts and estate planning and administration. Our group assists Indian tribes and tribal members in their pursuit of financial planning opportunities and their use of innovative financial products. Recent client engagements have involved us in:

  • Providing for the effective use of Revenue Allocation Plans,
  • Advising on asset protection plans,
  • Drafting minors trust agreements, and
  • Guiding tribal members through the trust administration process.

As a client, you benefit from the collective experience of this highly regarded group of attorneys who are eager to serve the unique needs of Indian tribes and their members.

Health, Housing & Education

Health Law Practice

Holland & Knight serves clients engaged in health care related activities. We combine specific knowledge of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (Pub.L. 93-638), the health care industry, health law and Indian law with experience in business law, litigation, negotiation, government advocacy, nonprofit organizations law, dispute resolution and other legal disciplines that are essential to effective tribal health representation. Our Indian Health Law Team has extensive experience representing tribal owners and operators of hospitals and other health care facilities in negotiations with federal agencies, acquisitions, financings, joint ventures and other business transactions, and in seeking and complying with federal requirements. Our team includes professionals with experience working in conjunction with federal and state agencies administering health care programs, assisting tribes directly with administering programs, and advocating coverage issues for tribes with HMOs and other health insurers.

Housing Law Practice

Our Housing Law Practice lawyers have direct experience with the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), and with tribes and other organizations providing housing for Indian communities. We assist tribes in developing tribal housing, land use and building codes, and in seeking opportunities through grants, co-investments and legislation to meet tribal housing and community development needs.

Education Practice

Holland & Knight’s Education Practice provides tribes, states, school districts, universities and other education providers across the country with a unique array of counseling, advocacy and communications services. Our central mission is to ensure that tribes have equal access to educational resources and opportunities.

Our services focus on preventive law – leveraging the law to improve education while reducing the risk of litigation or enforcement – as well as obtaining and protecting educational resources. We regularly represent tribes before the U.S. Department of Education, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Congress to protect their vital resources and to ensure access to critical infrastructure development, such as school construction. Our attorneys are keenly aware of the importance of preserving and protecting tribal traditions, languages and cultures.

Telecommunications Practice

Holland & Knight’s Telecommunications Practice provides a full range of legal services and counseling in all aspects of domestic and international telecommunications, information and content services. In an era of convergence, our telecommunications practice encompasses regulatory, transactional, legislative and litigation services – both on and off tribal lands – for:
  • Wireless telecommunications,
  • IP-enabled services,
  • Wireline competition,
  • Radio, television and other broadcast media, and
  • Cable, satellite and spectrum-based technologies.

Through our national presence and expert resources we are uniquely positioned to assist tribes with all their telecommunications needs. We take a “one-firm” approach, utilizing the breadth and depth of experience across the entire firm, to address the specific needs of our tribal clients in telecommunications and media transactions, regulatory and legislative matters and dispute resolution.

Transportation Practice

Our national Transportation Practice serves tribal needs in the many facets of the transportation field. Our practitioners helped draft the Indian provisions of the most recent federal transportation acts (SAFETEA-LU and ISTEA). We assist tribal clients in negotiations with federal, state and county governments on highway construction and maintenance, and public transportation systems. Transportation Team members have held substantial positions with federal, state and local governments, with transportation agencies and in private sector transportation companies. They include former members of Congress, a former General Counsel to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metro-North Commuter Railroad, former congressional staff members with transportation experience, and attorneys previously employed by railroads, trucking companies, and highway and toll road authorities. We have assisted tribes in working with local, state and federal agencies on road, transportation and related funding issues for the benefit of tribal economic development and housing projects.

Real Estate Practice

Holland & Knight’s firmwide Real Estate Practice represents clients in trust land acquisitions, development, dispositions, leasing and the financing of commercial, residential, industrial, mixed-use and public projects wherever they may be located. This practice includes land use issues on reservations, and the acquisition of new tribal properties and their acceptance into trust status. In addition, the practice includes assisting tribes in acquiring and developing former military base properties. We are experienced at the development of hotel, shopping centers and other commercial developments for tribes and ventures involving tribal interests.

Working with the firm’s litigation, corporate, real estate and tax departments, our Indian law real estate practitioners are able to incorporate all appropriate areas of the law in order to meet our client’s financial and operational goals. This has been an essential component of our services because it maximizes our ability to provide complete advice and counsel on all elements of a transaction within one law firm. Tribal clients have the comfort of knowing that the transaction is not only completely understood, but is being addressed and structured legally in a coordinated, comprehensive and cost-efficient way.

Leading Lawyers on Your Side

Holland & Knight's Indian Law Team is consistently recognized among the leaders in the field by national and international publications. The 2011-12 U.S. News - Best Lawyers "Best Law Firms" guide placed our Indian Law practice in its first tier nationally in the category of Native American Law.