Akin Gump Advises on Native American Finance Officer Association Deal of the Year

(Washington D.C.) – On Friday, October 9, 2020, the Gila River Indian Community received the “Deal of the Year Award” during the Native American Finance Officer Association’s (“NAFOA”) virtual Fall Conference. This prestigious award is given to tribal governments for those projects that are innovative and utilize financing and governmental resourcefulness to address longstanding issues in Indian Country.

The award was given to the Community for the Gila Crossing Community School construction/leaseback program. The school was constructed and financed utilizing the section 105(l) leasing program that is part of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. The Gila Crossing Community School was the first project to utilize this leasing program and now serves as a model for infrastructure development for Indian Country.  Although this law has been in existence for 45 years, this was the first project to utilize the leasing provision to complete a construction project and then lease the facility back to the Department of the Interior. You may learn more about the project here.

A team from Akin Gump’s American Indian Law and Policy practice advised the Community on all aspects of this project, including early engagement with the Department of the Interior to establish the program, negotiating the lease, and obtaining appropriations for the lease payments.  The team was led by American Indian Law and Policy practice head Don Pongrace and included senior policy advisor Denise Desiderio, partner Jason Hauter, senior counsel Katie Brossy and consultant Steven Heeley.

The Gila Crossing Community School project was completed in July of 2019, but the Akin Gump team has gone on to negotiate two additional leases between tribal nations and the Department of the Interior. This year, the team advised the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in their 105(l) lease agreement with the Department of the Interior for a public safety building.  And last week, the Department of the Interior entered into a second lease with the Gila River Indian Community for another school on the Reservation, the Casa Blanca Community School. This school will follow the school construction/leaseback program that was so successful for the Gila Crossing Community School. (Learn more here.)

Stephen Roe Lewis, Governor of the Gila River Indian Community commented, “This project could not have been completed without the team from Akin Gump.  The team took the school project from a concept to a model for Indian Country and were tireless advocates on behalf of the Community and the students attending the Gila Crossing Community School.”

In discussing the importance of the section 105(l) lease program, Don Pongrace commented, “the Akin Gump team was proud to be part of this innovative program and to establish a program that is a game changer for how infrastructure projects and tribal programs are funded for Indian Country.”

View the Gila River Indian Community’s acceptance of the NAFOA Deal of the Year award here.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP is a leading international law firm with more than 900 lawyers and advisors in offices throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Founded in 1945, the firm is proudly celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020. #AkinGump75

# # #