More Legal Challenges Ahead for Tribes in 2011

Anthony Broadman is featured in a column in Indian Gaming magazine, More Legal Challenges Ahead for Tribes in 2011.

Tribal governments have educated states regarding tribal sovereignty, tribal governmental gaming, and the risk of attacking tribes and their casinos in the courtroom. So much so that, while high profile tribal-state disputes remain and continue, a new generation of intergovernmental fight may soon outnumber them. States’ younger siblings – counties, cities, and municipalities – do not yet understand tribal sovereignty. And as local governments struggle to fund operations and please an increasingly fickle local electorate, look for more disputes like we’ve seen recently in the non-gaming context, at Oneida, Passamaquoddy, Cayuga, and elsewhere.

The tribal-federalist system puts tribes in the awkward position of possessing a right to government-to-government relations with the United States and the individual states, but still needing, at times, to act as local governments. The jurisdictional overlap with other local governments not surprisingly drives tax and services disputes, and can sour local relationships. Counties often fail to perceive tribes as governments. And when a tribe undertakes economic development “in” a county, casino or not, it should expect a fight. Even when a county first welcomes economic development, later versions of the same local government can see tribal ventures as potential revenue sources, which they attack accordingly.

Tribes can and will fight inappropriate local government activity in federal court. But litigation should be the last resort. Not only are federal (and state) courts unfriendly to tribal interests, but, as compared to cities and counties, tribes have far more to lose on their own behalf and on that of their sister tribes. Tribal governments should explore constructive government-to-government arrangements even at the local level, under which tribes can secure some measure of certainty by binding counties, cities, and their future leaders. The intergovernmental agreement may be commonplace with states, but it is difficult for their younger siblings to grasp. As difficult as it may seem to stoop the local governmental level, counties and cities will not educate themselves. It is up to Tribes to school local governmental actors, teach them how to behave like good neighbors, and secure the kind of jurisdictional and legal certainty necessary for sustainable economic growth.

Anthony Broadman is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm.  His practice focuses on company-critical business litigation and representing tribal governments. He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or, or via