Native American law in United States


Based in Washington DC, the Native American practice at Dentons has a strong track record acting for tribal governments and businesses on all matters relating to federal Indian law, particularly high-stakes litigation and land acquisitions. Overseen by Heather Sibbison, the team includes a number of former senior officials at the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice, and the National Indian Gaming Commission, and has vast expertise assisting Indian tribes with their engagements with the federal government. Counsel Samuel Daughety is the key name for matters regarding the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and regularly appears before the courts and represents clients in arbitration proceedings. He also advises tribes on water rights, water settlement issues, and economic development projects. Also recommended is counsel Suzanne Schaeffer, who has over three decades of experience in matters relating to Indian lands, claims, and trusts. She also has particular expertise in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and is regularly involved in land acquisitions for both gaming and non-gaming purposes. On the associate level, Rose Petoskey is 'an asset to the team' and handles trust acquisitions and compliance matters.

Practice head(s):

Heather Sibbison

Other key lawyers:

Samuel Daughety; Suzanne Schaeffer; Rose Petoskey


‘Dentons’ Native American Law practice provides clients with a depth and breadth of expertise and services that is not found in other global law firms.’

‘Everyone I have encountered at Dentons brings expertise and deep experience to their work. They are engaged and engaging. They listen well and respond promptly.

Heather Sibbison is very smart on regulatory matters and knows how to work with the Department of Interior.’

‘Heather Sibbison is the lead and offers superior service to her clients. Her experience and attention are invaluable. She has gained the trust and loyalty of this client. Rose Petroskey is the lead Associate who has worked tirelessly on various matters for us. Rose is always responsive, knowledgeable, and professional. She is an asset to the team. Suzanne Schaeffer has provided the Tribe exception litigation advice and led the team to success in the District Court. She is also skilled in all areas of Native American law and provides the Client an array of services.’

Key clients

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

The Tohono O’odham Nation

The Prairie Island Indian Community

The Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

The National Congress Of American Indians/Association on American Indian Affairs/National Indian Child Welfare Association

The Lumbee Tribe

Yocha Dehe Wintun Natio

Work highlights

  • Secured a significant litigation victory in June 2020 for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe when the District Court for the District of Columbia found that the Department of the Interior acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and in contravention of law when it refused to find that the Tribe was “under federal jurisdiction” and therefore its reservation was properly established under the Indian Reorganization Act.
  • Representing the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona in ongoing litigation concerning the Trump Administration’s effort to “reprogram” Department of Defense funds to construct a wall on the US/Mexico International Border.
  • Represented three national non-profit Native American rights organizations as amicus curiae in multiple federal district courts to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a 1978 law designed to protect Indian children, families and tribes.

Dykema Gossett PLLC

Dykema Gossett PLLC's Michigan-based Native American practice has strength in the casino gaming industry and the establishment of casinos on Indian lands and around Detroit. Managed by Lance Boldrey, who has experience in transactional work related to tribal-state gaming matters, the group represents tribes, banks, investors, and businesses on financing agreements and matters involving the National Indian Gaming Commission. Transactional lawyer Jason Hanselman is a core member of the team and specializes in commercial and tribal gaming projects across Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, California, and Hawaii. He is experienced in acting for tribes in financing agreements. The firm also has experience in tribal governmental representation where it is regularly involved in the drafting of constitutional ordinances for groups.

Practice head(s):

Lance Boldrey

Other key lawyers:

Jason Hanselman

Key clients

Protection of Rights Alliance and Emmet County Lakeshore Association

State of Indiana

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Bay Mills Community College

Tigua Indians of the Ysleta del sur Pueblo

State of Oklahoma

Little River Casino Resort

Work highlights

  • Lead counsel in federal litigation in which Protection of Rights Alliance and Emmet County Lakeshore Association is seeking a declaration that 300+ square miles in Northern Michigan are an Indian reservation and an injunction against state law applying to the Tribe and its members.
  • Special counsel to Governor Holcomb and the State of Indiana with respect to the State’s interactions with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, which in December 2016 became the first tribe to obtain trust and reservation lands in Indiana.
  • Represent the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in federal applications to have land in Muskegon, Michigan was taken into trust for gaming purposes, and related state government relations work.

Jenner & Block LLP

Led out of Washington DC, Jenner & Block LLP's Native American practice has an impressive track record acting for tribal governments, businesses, and individuals in a wide range of litigation matters, sensitive internal investigations, and high-end financial transactions. The group is managed by two new joiners from Kilpatrick Townsend & StocktonCharles Galbraith, who served in the Obama administration as Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, and Keith Harper, who also has deep expertise across federal Indian law. The duo have appeared before all levels of the court, including tribal, state, and federal courts. Among its recent highlights, the team secured a US Supreme Court victory for a tribal client reflected in the McGirt decision; that matter was led by Ian Heath Gershengorn, who heads the firm's appellate and Supreme Court team. Also in the team is skilled litigator Zachary Schauf, who represents Indian tribes before the Department of Interior in sovereign immunity issues, gaming rights, and reservation matters.

Practice head(s):

Charles Galbraith; Keith Harper

Other key lawyers:

Ian Heath Gershengorn; Zachary Schauf


The Jenner Block team have really upped their game with their recent acquisitions.’

Key clients

Jimcy McGirt

The Cayuga Indian Nation of New York

National Congress of American Indians

Tulalip Tribes of Washington

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

The Northern Arapaho Tribe

Association on American Indian Affairs

Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The Navajo Nation

Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana

Work highlights

  • On July 9, 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of firm client Jimcy McGirt, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma accused of committing a crime within the historic boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation.
  • On July 9, 2020, in the wake of the McGirt decision, the US Supreme Court issued a one-sentence opinion invalidating Mr. Murphy’s capital murder conviction. As a result, Mr. Murphy’s death sentence has been vacated.
  • Represented the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in an APA case challenging the failure of the Secretary of the Interior to approve a gaming compact revision.

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP's leading practice is noted for its handling of high-value financing mandates for Native American tribes and businesses. Based in Portland and led by Townsend Hyatt, the practice is skilled in a variety of financing work including public debt finance, as well as lending for domestic banks and borrowing for Indian nations. In San Francisco, banking partner David Lin is the key contact for casino projects, casino development, and gaming matters; and Zachary Finley is also routinely involved in large financing transactions. The group also handles inter-tribal loans work. Los Angeles-based Ramon Galvan focuses on casino construction projects for Native American tribes as well as tribal financing matters for tribal clients across the West Coast.

Practice head(s):

Townsend Hyatt

Other key lawyers:

David Lin; Zachary Finley; Ramon Galvan

Key clients

Pascua Yaqui Tribe

Reno-Sparks Indian Colony

Spokane Tribe of Indians

Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan

CIT Bank

Barclays Capital Inc.

Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe of Enterprise Rancheria

Poarch Creek Band of Indians / PCI Gaming Authority

Seneca Nation of Indians / Seneca Gaming Corporation

Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon

Pueblo of Pojoaque/Buffalo Thunder Development Authority

Kalispel Tribe of Indians

Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians

Jena Choctaw Band of Indians

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

PNC Bank

KeyBank, N.A.

KeyBanc Capital Markets

Western Alliance Bank

Umpqua Bank

Columbia Bank

Work highlights

  • Represented the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and its wholly owned enterprise, PCI Gaming Authority, in connection with repricing and modifying an existing $1.4bn senior secured term loan B financing commitment provided by Credit Suisse and other lenders.
  • Served as bond counsel and tax counsel to the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in connection with financing construction of a new tribal health facility on the Tribe’s reservation near Tucson, Arizona.
  • Represented the Seneca Gaming Corporation (SGC) and the Seneca Nation of Indians in connection with renegotiation and amendment of $375m of senior secured debt for Nation’s three gaming resort properties in western New York.

Van Ness Feldman LLP

The team at Van Ness Feldman LLP has over 50 years of experience acting for Alaska Native and American Indian tribes, as well as corporations encountering federal Indian law and policy issues. Jointly led by Andrew VanderJack in Washington DC and Maranda Compton in Denver, the practice group provides comprehensive support on complex litigation, regulatory work, and government relations. It also has an integrated midstream energy project practice. Experienced litigator Patrick Daugherty handles the bulk of high-value civil and administrative proceedings for native clients against federal agencies and is the key name for consumer finance issues. Also in the DC team are Robert Conrad and Michael Goodstein, who handle land issues and environmental litigation respectively. The energy and natural resources sector continues to be an industry strength for the firm, and in this regard, practice co-chair Compton specializes in transactional work for energy sector clients operating on Indian lands.

Practice head(s):

Andrew VanderJack; Maranda Compton

Other key lawyers:

Patrick Daugherty; Robert Conrad; Michael Goodstein

Key clients

Huna Totem Corporation

Cherokee Nation

Doyon, LTD

Eastern Shawnee Tribe

Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians of the Guidiville Rancheria

Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria

North Slope Borough

Native American Financial Services Association

The Hopi Tribe

The Osage Nation

Work highlights

  • Acting for Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewarts Point Rancheria in a class-action suit alleging that the Tribal businesses’ operations are contrary to state consumer protection laws.
  • Continue to serve as  Native American Financial Services Associations (NAFSA) outside General Counsel on all daily legal matters and strategy including partnering with national organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians, to implement economic growth strategies in Indian Country.
  • Representing the Cherokee Nation in its breach of trust action against the US seeking an accounting and appropriate restitution from the US of the Cherokee Nation’s assets held in trust by the US.


WilmerHale's Native American law practice is singled out for its handling of high-stakes litigation mandates for tribal governments and nations at all levels of the judiciary, including the US Supreme Court. Fielding a coast-to-coast presence, the group is jointly managed by Seth Waxman in DC and Ken Salazar in Denver, and has considerable expertise advising on tribal issues including the cultural preservation of sacred sites, protection of natural resources, and land-into-trust matters. Salazar is note din particular for his expertise in energy, environmental, and natural resources matters, and is the key contact for conservation issues and development. The group also handles tribal self-determination matters. Another name to note in Washington DC is co-chair of the firm's appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice Danielle Spinelli, who handles administrative proceedings for Native American tribes relating to land-into-trust, gaming, and jurisdictional issues. In a representative matter, Spinelli and Christopher Babbitt secured a victory for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians at the Ninth Circuit which ruled in favor of gaming on the tribe's land. Elsewhere, Michael Connor who splits his time between DC and Denver, specializes in water rights and protection of Indian resources. Counsel Kevin Lamb focuses on complex commercial disputes for tribal clients and maintains a busy pro bono practice focused on anti-discrimination law.

Practice head(s):

Seth Waxman; Ken Salazar

Other key lawyers:

Danielle Spinelli; Christopher Babbitt; Michael Connor; Kevin Lamb


‘Great value. Blue chip lawyers.’

‘Danielle Spinelli is very good – federal court APA litigation, district court, and appeals.’

Key clients

Spokane Tribe of Indians

Kewadin Casinos Gaming Authority/Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Cayuga Nation of New York

North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians

AWL, Inc. (owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians)

Quechan Tribe of the Ft. Yuma Reservation

Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee Nations

Catawba Tribe of North and South Carolina

Work highlights

  • Advised the Spokane Tribe of Indians in litigation brought by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and by Spokane County, Washington, challenging the Department of the Interior’s decision to take land into trust for the Spokane Tribe for gaming pursuant to a two-part determination.
  • Representing the Cayuga Nation in its efforts to have land taken into trust.
  • Representing Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in litigation and administrative proceedings relating to its submission seeking to have land taken into trust for it pursuant to the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.