Native American Law

  • Holland & Knight's Native American Law Group provides legal advice to our clients based on our thorough understanding of the legal challenges facing Native American governments and organizations, including Indian tribes, tribal entities, Alaska Native corporations and nonprofits. 
  • Our Native American Law Group – one of the largest in the United States – provides comprehensive legal and public policy services in Indian Country, from the exercise of tribal sovereignty and governance to the development and operation of hotels, clinics, retail centers, renewable and non-renewable energy, casinos, infrastructure and utilities. 
  • We literally wrote the book on Indian gaming – The Indian Gaming Handbook™ – now in its sixth edition and widely used by gaming regulators, management executives and their lawyers. In addition, we co-authored a comprehensive resource on the formation of Indian tribal business entities – the Tribal Business Structure Handbook
  • Our Native American 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 and tribal authority. 
  • We have a decades-long record of advising and assisting Alaska Native corporations as they have worked to fulfill the intent and purpose of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act by addressing the real economic and social needs of Alaska Natives through "maximum participation by Natives in decisions affecting their rights and property."
  • Leading publications recognize our group as top legal professionals in the country. U.S. News—Best Lawyers honored Holland & Knight as "2016 Law Firm of the Year" for Native American Law for our high-caliber services on behalf of clients' most critical tribal, state and federal legal concerns. 

Our Commitment

With a deep respect for the traditional values that distinguish Native Americans, Holland & Knight's Native American Law Group is committed to providing Indian tribal governments and Alaska Native organizations with the same high quality of legal representation demanded by other governments and sophisticated business enterprises – the kind of service such communities require to protect their sovereignty and to prosper now and in future generations.

Our Native American Law Group harnesses the diverse talents and extensive experience of our firm's attorneys and other professionals to: 

We understand the challenges that Indian tribes and Alaska Native organizations face, and are able to provide full-service legal and strategic advice and counsel on all of the critical issues.

Team Strengths

Holland & Knight's Native American Law Group is a team of more than two dozen highly experienced attorneys and government practice professionals, many of whom are tribal members. We are zealously devoted to the unique needs of tribal governments, Native American organizations and the complex field of federal Indian law. When appropriate, our Indian law practitioners work with hundreds of other lawyers across the firm practicing in a broad range of disciplines to provide our clients with comprehensive legal services and advocacy. As a core value of the firm, we are committed to obtaining the results our clients seek in a cost-efficient and timely manner.

Our Native American Law Group includes:

  • former members of Congress 
  • former congressional staff 
  • attorneys who have developed national reputations in the fields of Indian law and Alaska Native law

Federal and State Government Relations and Advocacy

Changes in federal and state law and policy affecting one tribe often have a profound and long-lasting effect upon all Indian tribes. To guard our clients' interests, our Native American Law Group, supported by one of the largest and most highly rated lobbying practices in Washington, D.C., maintains constant communication with members of Congress and key federal agencies. Through our offices in Alaska, California, Florida and New York, we also maintain a visible presence in several state capitals. We provide clients with an effective team of lawyers and lobbyists who have personal knowledge of the legislative, regulatory and budgetary processes. We also have established working relationships with key decision-makers. Our legislative policy team includes seasoned lawyers and professionals in the fields of gaming, tax, labor, self-governance, energy, environment, trust land, healthcare, education, finance and development.

Every week, our Native American Law team prepares a summary report of federal Indian law and policy developments that impact Indian Country. This subscription-based reporting service helps keep tribal leaders and senior staff up-to-date by covering the latest Indian-related legislation, congressional hearing activity, administrative rules and regulations, and much more. It also includes a list of upcoming events and opportunities for tribal voices to be heard on critical issues. For a sample issue and information on subscribing, please contact a member of the Native American Law Group.

We regularly use our firm's strong resources in government relations and litigation when negotiation and 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 
  • protect and enhance federal support for tribal transportation projects 
  • obtain radio, television and wireless licenses, and negotiate utility rights-of-way across Indian lands 
  • gain federal approval of trust land acquisitions 
  • fight cuts and advocate increases in Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Justice and Indian Health Service budgets, and negotiate program agreements with these and other federal agencies

Collaboration is the hallmark of our federal and state advocacy. We work closely with other firms, and with regional and national coalitions and caucuses, to advocate in support of our clients' interests.

Tribal Self-Governance 

We assist tribal clients in the exercise of their sovereignty. Nothing is more fundamental to the survival of tribal governments. We help tribal governments vigilantly guard their right to make their own decisions about what happens on their lands. Likewise, we vigorously protect the value of tribal assets for current and future generations by actively applying judicial precedents upholding tribal sovereign immunity.

Our attorneys have developed all types of tribal governing documents including constitutions, bylaws and a diverse spectrum of tribal codes, policies, and procedures. In particular, we have extensive experience in advising tribal governments on enactment or revision of tribal codes that may impact current and future economic development initiatives. We have also assisted tribes in drafting election ordinances and regulations, and have represented tribal election boards. For example, we have:

  • developed tribal employment policies and procedures, business licensing ordinances, natural resource development regulations and ordinances governing tribal business enterprise development 
  • assisted tribes in establishing civil and criminal codes, real estate codes, juvenile codes, probate codes and judicial codes, and in creating minor's trusts and other benefit programs for tribal members 
  • drafted comprehensive tribal business codes to govern commercial activity on reservations, including the sale of goods, leasing, business licenses and permits, and taxation

Our practitioners have decades of experience helping tribal governments assert their own authority to assume the operation and administration of federal programs and functions in Indian Country. We are proud that our practitioners, on behalf of tribal clients, have shaped each advance in self-governance policy and practice that has been authorized in the federal Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as amended. Likewise, we have counseled tribes on the development of a wide variety of tribal law codes. We regularly are asked to advise tribal governments on effective administration of tribal programs, including personnel and operational issues. Additionally, we assist tribes in negotiating with state and local units of government on a wide range of intergovernmental matters, from transportation and waste water development projects to land use and planning and tax agreements.

Environment and Natural Resources 

Holland & Knight provides tribes with sound advice, litigation and government representation in all areas of environmental and natural resources law. We have deep experience navigating the maze of federal environmental regulations, state and local regulations, and permit requirements. Our attorneys have extensive experience with environmental analysis and review under tribal environmental regulations approved by the U.S. Department of Interior. 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 tribes. This includes the use of tribal, federal and – where applicable – state environmental laws such as:

  • National Environmental Policy Act 
  • state environmental protection acts 
  • Navajo Nation Environmental Policy Act 
  • Energy Policy Act of 2005 
  • Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act 
  • Endangered Species Act 
  • Clean Air Act 
  • Clean Water Act 
  • wetlands, tidelands and river protection acts 
  • brownfields redevelopment and hazardous waste control and cleanup 
  • Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act 
  • Federal Land Policy Management Act

Holland & Knight also assists tribes in drafting, implementing and enforcing laws to protect and manage tribal natural resources and the environment; these efforts are an expression of tribal sovereignty. For example, we have substantial 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.

When 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 protection 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 proficient working outside of Indian Country, we can also assist tribes with projects that they pursue outside of tribal lands.

Energy and Utility Projects 

Over the years, Holland & Knight's lawyers have played a significant role in developing and protecting tribal energy and utility resources. Our decades of efforts in federal representation, business development and litigation in these areas enable us 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 renewable energy market, we have represented tribal interests in solar and wind power projects. 
  • 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 an in-depth 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; power marketing; and storage, energy efficiency, demand-response and micro-grids.

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.

Representative engagements include: 

  • representing a tribal government in the development and financing of a commercial solar and battery storage project 
  • advising a solar developer on federal and tribal regulations for a utility-scale solar project on reservation lands 
  • representing a tribal subsidiary in the acquisition of a coal mine that serves a coal-fired electric generation plant on reservation lands 
  • advising and representing a tribal government in preparation of utility access permits for electric service on reservation lands 
  • advising and representing a tribal government regarding feasibility and potential development of a refinery on reservation lands 
  • representing an Alaska Native corporation regarding management and assets of electric and gas utilities on Native corporation-owned lands 
  • representing an Alaska Native corporation in the potential development of a cogeneration plant to serve Native community electric demands 
  • advising and representing an Alaska Native corporation regarding potential development of an electric power plant using renewable energy and biomass resources

Litigation

Our attorneys provide our tribal clients effective and tough litigation strategies and representation in tribal, state and federal forums, before judges and administrative decision-makers, at the trial and appellate levels. From localized state agency proceedings to multi-issue appeals work before the U.S. Supreme Court that sets precedent for all of Indian Country, the accomplished litigators in our Native American Law Group advance the interests of tribal clients with vigorous oral advocacy and persuasive brief writing. We have handled such matters as federal trust responsibility enforcement, gaming management contract disputes, federal agency contract enforcement, jurisdictional conflicts, assertions of real property rights, and pursuing and protecting a wide variety of tribal economic development interests. In addition to representing individual defendant and plaintiff interests, our Indian law litigators have led and assisted in writing amicus ("friend of the court") briefs on behalf of national and regional tribal coalitions that advocate unified positions on behalf of Indian Country. More specifically, the accomplishments of our Indian law litigators include:

  • participation in the U.S. Supreme Court case California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, which set the stage for the development of the Indian gaming industry, by way of an amicus brief 
  • serving as lead counsel in the Ninth Circuit case of Blue Lake Rancheria v. United States, which upheld the special status afforded to tribes and their wholly owned enterprises under U.S. tax and employment laws 
  • serving as lead counsel in State of Washington v. Chehalis, which enabled electronic gaming devices to be made available to all tribes in that state 
  • prosecuting a federal court action against the Indian Health Service that forced IHS to live up to its tribal self-determination contract funding obligations, resulting in millions of additional dollars for tribal member health services 
  • prosecuting a federal court action against the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to force BIA to live up to funding obligations arising as a result of BIA's failure to follow its own rules in contract proposal administration 
  • monitoring and enforcing the right of a class member tribe in a large-scale class action against the BIA for its miscalculation of contract support cost funding allocations 
  • prosecuting nearly one dozen tribal clients' claims over several years against the Indian Health Service (IHS) for its miscalculation and underpayment of contract support cost funding allocations 
  • asserting a claim of right to intervene in a class action settlement and the distribution of remainder funds on behalf of a tribal government and tribal foundation 
  • successfully defending the rights of two tribal governments in an action brought against their federal trustee by individuals intent on taking over their tribal governments and enterprises, in litigation that spanned 12 years of motions, trials and appeals 
  • engaging in ongoing efforts to support the Secretary of the Interior's authority to take land into trust for all federally recognized tribes, in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's Carcieri v. Salazar decision

Our Native American Law Group litigators are supported by the firm's Litigation Section, one of the largest practices in the United States. Comprised of trial and appellate lawyers accomplished in all substantive areas of the law, our litigation infrastructure and resources enable us to take large, complex cases, empowering us to protect and preserve the rights of tribes for generations to come.

Indian Gaming

We have been actively involved in dozens of complex casino, hotel and resort development efforts, representing tribes from the earliest planning stages through project opening, operations and regulation. Our tribal gaming practice is an important part of our comprehensive service to our clients. We provide advice, counseling, negotiation and representation at the federal and state levels and have the capabilities to meet all of a tribe's gaming law needs.

Gaming Development and Expansion. In gaming development projects, we typically participate in all phases of the project, including: 

  • negotiating tribal-state compacts 
  • negotiating agreements with neighboring governments 
  • negotiating contracts with developers, managers and vendors 
  • 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 of debt financing) 
  • 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 in regards to 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 
  • structuring and developing ancillary investments and facilities

We help our clients give due consideration to and resolve the wide range of tribal, state and federal legal issues that accompany gaming development.

Gaming Regulation and Compliance. Another important component of our Indian gaming practice is our ability to advise tribal governments and casino management on gaming regulation and compliance. For example, we have created and trained several 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, and complying with gaming compact requirements. We also advise both tribal gaming commissions and casino management on the development of internal controls and Bank Secrecy Act compliance programs. When invited by the tribe with jurisdiction, we also mediate issues that sometimes arise among tribal 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 edit and publish The Indian Gaming Handbook,™ which is now in its sixth edition and is widely used throughout the Indian gaming community and by tribal, state and federal regulatory agencies.

Taxation and Employee Benefits

Holland & Knight provides comprehensive tax and employee benefits advice to Indian tribal governments and tribal organizations. We draw on our wealth of experience in providing practical, cost-effective solutions to what can be costly problems. Members of our firm have substantial experience with the unique federal, state and tribal tax issues faced by tribal governments. We are also at the forefront of federal Indian tax policy, frequently assisting in drafting provisions that have been enacted in the past 20 years, and in lobbying for other provisions that await enactment.

Federal Tax Issues. We currently advise a large number of Indian tribal governments and Alaska Native organizations on federal tax planning, compliance and IRS audit matters. Recent federal tax projects include: 

  • shaping and implementing the Tribal General Welfare Exclusion Act of 2014, which excludes from federal individual income taxation the value of certain tribal benefit programs provided to tribal members and other related persons 
  • advising on the tax treatment of tribal benefit and general welfare plans (including health, education, housing, eldercare and similar social welfare programs) 
  • drafting minor's trust agreements, deferred per capita plans, and tribal executive compensation and retirement plans to tax-efficiently maximize and preserve tribal member wealth 
  • advising on how to maximize tax-free distributions to tribal members from revenues directly derived from the use of trust land or from trust resources 
  • advising on federal employment tax issues that have arisen in the context of IRS audits 
  • providing opinions on federal income and excise tax issues such as distributions of resources derived from trust lands and the tax implications of various tribal business ventures (including tobacco, fuel and property ownership) 
  • advising on withholding and reporting obligations imposed on tribal casinos with respect to their employees, contractors and customers 
  • helping tribes through every stage of an IRS audit, from effectively responding to IRS Information Document Requests, to negotiating tax liabilities and penalties with the IRS revenue agent or an IRS Appeals officer 
  • advising Alaska Native corporations regarding the calculation and recognition of gains or losses on transactions involving settlement lands, and defending the treatment of such gains and losses from IRS challenges 
  • resolving tax controversies and challenging erroneous IRS positions through litigation in federal courts

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, the tax treatment of tribal enterprises, and the rules applicable to tribal pension and employee benefit plans.

State Tax Issues. We also have experience handling a variety of state tax issues, particularly in California, New York and Florida. We regularly advise clients on the scope of state taxing authority over on-reservation activities and work with them to structure transactions to take fullest advantage of federal preemption of state taxes. We have developed particular knowledge in state fuel tax issues and in structuring vertically integrated energy projects in a tax-efficient manner. We are actively engaged in representing tribal organizations on the Marketplace Fairness Act and other legislative proposals to impose uniform taxation on 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 to bolster tribal economic development.

Tribal Labor and Employment

Holland & Knight attorneys have a long history of being at the forefront of tribal and Alaska Native organizations labor and employment law, involving the knowledge and experience of team members from our Native American Law and Labor, Employment and Benefits groups. From advocating tribal employer positions of national importance in federal appellate courts to assisting tribal clients with day-to-day employee relations in their tribal government and economic development ventures, we have lawyers with substantive understanding of every issue in this field. Our team members have:

  • negotiated tribal-state gaming compact provisions that address tribal casino employee relations 
  • advised tribal clients and Alaska Native corporations on compliance with the federal and state labor and employment laws that affect their bottom line 
  • served as tax and employee benefits counsel to tribes, Alaska Native corporations and their business entities on compliance with recent pension and health care laws, such as the Affordable Care Act 
  • worked in countless other ways to assist tribes, tribal organizations and Alaska Native organizations in addressing the long-term and day-to-day operational issues facing them as employers

With decades of practicing in the unique facets of Indian and Alaska Native law and the ability to tap on the seasoned employment and employee benefits attorneys across our firm, we are able to provide tribes and Alaska Native organizations with the level of guidance they need in this area.

Business and Corporate Organization

We are frequently asked by our tribal and Alaska Native clients to assist them in establishing business ventures and structuring business entities, including corporations organized under federal or tribal law, LLCs, partnerships and other joint ventures. Such projects involve tax, financing, governance, sovereign immunity and other liability issues that our team of transactional attorneys is well-prepared to handle. Representative projects in this area include the following: 

  • drafting numerous Section 17 corporate charters and providing advice on the BIA charter approval and ratification process 
  • analyzing 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 
  • securing an IRS private letter ruling confirming the tax treatment of a tribal law corporation structured as an "integral part" of the tribe 
  • obtaining BIA and IRS recognition of the political subdivision status of a tribal economic development authority after assisting in the formation of the new entity 
  • advising on the structuring of a tribal insurance company 
  • advising on the structuring of a consortium of Alaska Native corporations to acquire and hold an equity interest in offshore oil and gas reserves 
  • counseling numerous Alaska Native corporations on corporate governance matters, including the structuring of their subsidiary entities to reduce costs and risks and maximize profitability and achievement of other corporate objectives 
  • structuring 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

Several members of our Native American Law Group co-authored or contributed to the Tribal Business Structure Handbook. Originally commissioned by the Department of Interior's Division of Indian Energy and Economic Development and now distributed by the Native American Financial Officers Association, the handbook reviews each type of tribal business entity from the perspective of sovereign immunity and legal liability, corporate formation and governance, federal tax consequences and eligibility for special financing and tax credits.

Public and Project Financing

Holland & Knight is a nationally recognized bond firm. The firm has participated in governmental debt issues since the 1960s. We have consistently ranked among the top bond and 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: 

  • Tribal Economic Development Bonds 
  • Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds 
  • liquidity and credit enhanced financings 
  • zero coupon bonds, stepped coupon bonds and original issue discount bonds 
  • tax-credit bonds 
  • refundings (i.e., refinancing of existing bonds or other debt) 
  • swaps and other derivative financial products 
  • a variety of other financing techniques

During the past five years, our attorneys have served as bond counsel, disclosure counsel and underwriter's counsel for more than $18.2 billion in principal amount of debt, including tribal bonds to finance essential governmental functions and reservation economic development.

Holland & Knight finance attorneys also handle all aspects of project finance on a broad range of infrastructure projects, including:

  • airports and seaports 
  • rail and urban mass transit 
  • power plants, utilizing either fossil fuels or renewable energy sources 
  • water treatment facilities 
  • telecommunications networks 
  • waste-disposal facilities 
  • oil-and-gas production and refining facilities

We advise clients on a global scale, handling project finance in Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Our attorneys have first-hand experience with the latest innovations for structuring equity and debt capital and mitigating project risks.

Probate and Estate Planning

The Holland & Knight Private Wealth Services Group is the largest 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, Alaska Native corporations, individual tribal members and shareholders in their pursuit of financial planning opportunities and their use of innovative financial products. Recent client engagements include: 

  • providing for the effective use of tribal revenue allocation plans (RAPs) 
  • drafting and securing federal approval of amended tribal RAPs 
  • advising on asset protection plans, including deferred per capita plans 
  • drafting minor's trust agreements 
  • drafting special needs trusts to preserve beneficiaries' eligibility for federal assistance 
  • guiding tribal members through the trust administration process 
  • advising Alaska Native corporations in complex stock transfer matters arising from the inheritance or inter vivos gifting of Alaska Native corporation shares

Health Law Practice 

Holland & Knight serves tribal clients engaged in the delivery of diverse healthcare and related services. We combine specific knowledge of self-determination contracts and self-governance agreements with our healthcare industry experience, and our knowledge of health law, Indian law, business law, litigation, negotiation, government advocacy, nonprofit organizations law, dispute resolution and other legal disciplines that are essential to effective tribal health representation. Our Native American Health Law Group regularly represents tribal and Alaska Native owners and operators of hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities in negotiations with federal agencies, acquisitions, financings, joint ventures and other business transactions, and in seeking and complying with federal and state requirements.

  • One area of singular experience is in the growing field of compliance with new requirements as a result of Affordable Care Act (ACA) implementation. 
  • In addition, the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act has opened many new revenue raising opportunities for Indian tribes, and clients have asked for our assistance in developing the necessary legal framework.

Our Native American Law Group includes professionals with experience working in conjunction with federal and state agencies administering healthcare programs, assisting tribes directly with administering programs, and advocating coverage issues for tribes and Alaska Native organizations with HMOs and other health insurers.

Housing Law Practice

Members of our Native American Law Group were instrumental in drafting the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 (NAHASDA), and the amendments that have been made to NAHASDA. We regularly assist tribes and organizations who provide housing for Indian communities. Our lawyers advise tribes on developing housing, land use and building codes, and in seeking opportunities through tax credits, grants, co-investments and legislation to meet tribal housing and community development needs. Currently, we are actively involved on behalf of tribal clients to shape the reauthorization of NAHASDA.

Federal Contracting Practice

Contracting with the federal government is an important economic development engine for tribes and native groups both in its own right and as a diversification tool. The rules governing federal procurement, including the special procurement programs established to assist tribes and Alaska Native corporations are complex and require specific knowledge. We represent tribes and Alaska Native corporations in all aspects of the federal contracting process as well as in matters involving federal grants, annual funding agreements and self-determination contracting. In particular, we have extensive experience in advising tribes, Alaska Native corporations and their subsidiaries on matters related to the SBA 8(a) business development program, including:

  • 8(a) application and eligibility issues 
  • negotiating joint venture and teaming arrangements with both large and small businesses and obtaining SBA approval 
  • entity and organizational structuring, including through holding companies, to maximize 8(a) program benefits 
  • SBA's 8(a) mentor-protégé program 
  • compliance with SBA reporting and regulatory requirements 
  • size protests and appeals to the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) 
  • 8(a) suspension and termination proceedings

Our 8(a) team includes highly experienced members of the firm's Chambers-rated national Government Contracts Group. We have advised tribal clients and Alaska Native corporations on contracts with nearly every federal agency, both foreign and domestic and across a range of industries, including information technology, professional services, telecommunications, manufacturing and industrial, aviation, clothing and apparel, energy, healthcare, transportation, and more. We routinely advise on all types of government contracting issues, including:

  • bid protests, claims and disputes with the federal government 
  • internal and governmental investigations and audits including by Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) 
  • government-wide suspension and debarment 
  • mergers and acquisitions involving government contractors 
  • government contracts labor and employment issues, including Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (OFCCP) requirements, the Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act requirements 
  • matters involving security clearances, including working with the Defense Security Service 
  • international contracting issues, including ITAR and FCPA

Alaska Native Organizations 

Our firm has a depth of experience in advising Indians and Alaska Natives and their tribes, organizations and corporations in Alaska. Our practitioners have decades of experience representing Alaska Native interests and shaping federal and state law as it affects those interests. Practitioners in the firm have mounted lobbying and litigation efforts to:

  • defend tribal status, federal funding and tribal authority 
  • defend the non-taxable exercise of Native whaling rights 
  • secure for tribes in Alaska the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by tribal governments throughout the rest of the United States

Holland & Knight's experience in representing Alaska Native corporations includes more than 30 years of assisting Alaska Native corporations on a broad range of corporate and business matters, including corporate governance and business structure matters. We are often engaged as outsourced general counsel for our Alaska Native corporation clients. We have advised Alaska Native corporations on restructuring the governance and management of their subsidiary operations to improve profitability, reduce risks, and bring subsidiaries into alignment with the parent board's vision, values and goals. We are frequently asked by our Alaska Native corporation and Alaska 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 SBA 8(a) regulations, tax, financing, governance, sovereign immunity and other liability issues that our team of transactional Indian law attorneys is well-prepared to handle. Recent projects in this area include the following:

  • advising and assisting numerous regional and village Alaska Native corporations in restructuring the governance and management of their holding companies and operating subsidiary companies 
  • advising and assisting with the formation of a regional organization to serve as a single voice of its member organizations, including the Alaska Native regional and village for profit entities, corporations, as well as tribal and municipal organizations in the region 
  • advising an Alaska Native corporation with respect to transferring electric and gas infrastructure and related improvements 
  • advising Alaska Native corporations relating to the structure of SBA 8(a) entities, including the drafting and negotiations of joint venture agreements, teaming agreements and LLC operating agreements that comply with SBA 8(a) regulations 
  • advising and assisting Alaska Native corporations with the process of considering and implementing programs to issue a new class of equity shares to the descendants of the original ANCSA shareholders 
  • advising and assisting Alaska Native corporations with the structuring and implementation of conservation easements and wetlands mitigation banks to preserve and restore environmentally sensitive lands 
  • representing and assisting Alaska Native corporations in completing the selection and conveyance of their land entitlements and obtaining authorizing legislation in Congress where necessary 
  • representing Alaska Native corporations in litigation to enforce and protect their rights and interests in the land conveyed to them through ANCSA

Real Estate Practice

The Native American Law Group 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 includes land use issues on- and off-reservation, from such matters as establishment of conservation easements to rights-of-way and development rights. We are experienced in the development of hotels, shopping centers, mixed-use projects and other commercial developments for tribes and ventures involving tribal interests, including the acquisition and development of former military base properties.

Working with the firm's larger Real Estate Section and other departments, our Native American Law Group members are able to incorporate all appropriate areas of the law (including the special tax treatment enjoyed by Indian tribes, tribal entities and Alaska Native corporations) in order to meet our clients' 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. 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 way by one law firm, which is also more cost-efficient.

Corporate Compliance and Internal and Government Investigations

As tribes expand their gaming and other business interests, they are confronted by today's business climate of increased regulation, oversight and enforcement. This heightened level of risk requires the development and implementation of effective compliance and ethics programs.

Holland & Knight has extensive experience in assessing tribes' particular risks within their business operations, including but not limited to gaming. Our Compliance Services Team takes a proactive approach, guiding our tribal clients through the establishment of programs, planning and conducting compliance risk assessments and compliance audits and addressing a broad range of matters. We advise our tribal clients on the evolving regulatory and enforcement landscapes for their businesses, ensuring that their compliance efforts are effective and their business operations are protected. Our goal is to work with our tribal clients to create and implement an effective compliance and ethics program structure that meets the tribe's legal obligations, educates its workforce, allows its management to better understand and avoid potential regulatory and enforcement risks.

In addition to creating and implementing effective compliance programs to help our clients avoid problems before they occur, Holland & Knight is extremely well-positioned to assist in privately assessing and addressing allegations of wrongdoing should those circumstances arise. All business organizations are under increasing pressure to self-report organizational wrongdoing. When possible misconduct is discovered, the matter must be investigated thoroughly and quickly. We understand the particular sensitivities involved in such matters for our tribal clients, and we can advise them on how to best proceed, whether or not the situation needs to be disclosed to the federal authorities, and if so, when and how. In such instances, our tribal clients can count on our extensive experience in conducting tribal internal investigations in confidence – with discretion and tact – and in guiding them through the entire process. This includes conducting internal investigations using seasoned investigators and consultants, many of whom have had notable careers with federal law enforcement agencies.

In addition to assisting in private internal investigations, our White Collar Defense Team is well-prepared to successfully defend and protect tribes and tribal business organizations, including tribal casinos, in external regulatory and criminal investigations. Our White Collar Defense Team is comprised of dedicated, highly experienced professionals from government, industry and academia. Team members include former United States attorneys, former federal prosecutors, former federal and state regulators, former senior members of the U.S. Department of Justice (including a former chief of staff to the attorney general of the U.S. and a former FBI director). Working closely with our Native American Law Group in these situations, our White Collar Defense Team's goal is to successfully defend our tribal clients and their business interests, and to successfully resolve regulatory and criminal investigations with maximum confidentiality and minimum reputational damage.

Leading Lawyers on Your Side

The combination of our thorough knowledge and experience, our extensive history of leadership in bar and industry organizations, the established working relationships we maintain with participants in every facet of the industry, and our sincere commitment to provide responsive service is why clients entrust the members of our Native American Law Group to handle their legal and advocacy needs.

These attributes are also the reason why members of our Native American Law Group have been recognized among the top legal professionals in the country by leading publications, including:

2016 U.S. News—Best Lawyers "Best Law Firms" Guide

  • "Law Firm of the Year" for Native American Law 
  • National first-tier ranking: Native American Law 
  • Metropolitan first-tier ranking in Washington, D.C.: Native American Law

2016 The Best Lawyers in America Guide 

  • Four Native American Law Group attorneys recognized for Native American law

2015 Chambers USA – America's Leading Business Lawyers Guide

  • Four Native American Law Group attorneys nationally ranked for Native American Law.

In addition, we have been recognized among the top 10 federal lobbying and law firms in Washington, D.C., by Influence, National Journal and Roll Call.

These publications base their rankings and commentary on input provided by those who are best positioned to evaluate our capabilities – our clients and other attorneys in the industry.