American Indian > Issues Governing Tribal Lands and Lands Into Trust

Overview

The acquisition of land is essential to tribal self-determination. But navigating the lengthy Administrative land acquisition process or ushering legislation through passage to acquire land can take years, and it requires lawyers with both a policy and a practical understanding of tribal land use. Members of our American Indian Law and Policy Practice have held high-level positions in the Bureau of Indian affairs, elsewhere at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and in the U.S. Congress. Our team understands:

  • The intricacies of working on Capitol Hill.
  • Forging and maintaining relationships with senior staff throughout the DOI.
  • The most effective ways to communicate with DOI contacts on developments in tribal land issues, including those related to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Representative Matters

  • Advised Oklahoma-based Osage Nation in one of the largest-ever settlements of an asset mismanagement claim made by a tribe against the U.S. Government. Successfully negotiated in 2011 a settlement on behalf of the tribe. Utilized extensive discovery and technical experts to create a strong case against the federal government. The matter resolved significant tribal claims against the U.S. government for failure to document, account for and pay tribal members for trust assets and resources.
  • Played a significant role in the passage of the Helping Expedite and Advance Responsible Tribal Ownership (HEARTH) Act of 2012. This established a process by which tribes can approve their own surface land leases without having to wait for the DOI to approve each lease. Our tribal client’s efforts were recognized by President Obama.
  • Assisted the Gila River Indian Tribe (Community) in achieving the passage of legislation that fully implements a prior settlement agreement with the federal government. The agreement settles a trust accounting suit brought by the Community and requires recordation of all federal rights-of-way on the reservation. The legislation (H.R. 4032, the Gila River Indian Community Federal Rights-of-Way, Easements and Boundary Clarification Act) also clarifies a section of the Community Reservation boundary that will avoid a title dispute with the City of Phoenix, Ariz. In exchange for the lands at issue in the disputed area along the northwest boundary of the reservation, the bill allows the Community to add to its Reservation approximately 3,400 acres of culturally important lands in the Estrella Mountains, purchasing it from the Bureau of Land Management.

Services In-Depth

Indian trust lands are the primary source of tribal authority, affecting everything from housing opportunities to energy development, taxation issues and rights-of-way. Our team’s primary goal for our clients is to preserve—and potentially expand—tribal homelands to protect and sustain tribal self-governance and self-determination over those lands. 

Our team stays informed on potential changes that affect our clients, including proposed amendments to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and other regulatory developments related to tribal land, such as those related to taxation and how it impacts tribes’ ability to move ahead with infrastructure and economic development projects.