Successfully representing Native Americans in the development, implementation and enforcement of Tribal Environmental and Natural Resource Law


Native Americans face unique legal challenges that are becoming ever more complex in today’s changing world. We pride ourselves on our historic work with tribal leaders, program staff, and reservation attorneys across the country to problem-solve and identify innovative solutions to both new and age-old problems.

For more than 30 years, our attorneys have relied upon their unparalleled experience to navigate – and where necessary, to pave the way – through the complicated terrain that lies at the crossroads of federal, tribal, and state laws and their associated regulations. By understanding the unique nature of Indian law, our attorneys are positioned to meet the diverse needs and interests of Native American tribes, tribal business enterprises, and other tribal instrumentalities. This unique expertise is valuable not only for our tribal clients, but also for non-tribal clients who seek to conduct business in Indian Country.

Our goal is to resolve matters whenever possible, in the most cost effective way, by working collaboratively with federal agencies, local governments, and private entities.  However, when a cooperative approach is not possible, our attorneys are not reluctant to utilize their extensive experience in representing Tribal governments in environmental and natural resource litigation. We have successfully represented tribes in federal district courts, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court, tribal courts, and administrative agencies.

For more information, select one of the topics listed below.

General Issues

We draw upon the skills and expertise of attorneys throughout the firm to provide a wide range of legal services to tribes and tribal members, including:

  • Tribal sovereignty and governance;
  • Jurisdiction and venue matters;
  • Drafting tribal laws, ordinances, and resolutions;
  • Enforcement of Tribal environmental laws;
  • Legislative counseling and advocacy;
  • Tribal business regulatory compliance;
  • Real estate, land use, and fee-to-trust transactions;
  • Construction projects on tribal lands;
  • Government permits and approvals;
  • Labor and employment issues; and
  • Public and media relations.

Tribal Environmental & Natural Resources Law

Our extensive tribal experience has enabled us to serve as Special Environmental Counsel to tribal governments on a broad array of environmental, natural resource, and cultural issues, including:

  • Tribal environmental and natural resource program development;
  • Tribal hunting, fishing and gathering rights, and reserved water rights;
  • Cultural resource and sacred site protection;
  • Natural resource damage claims and Tribal service loss matters;
  • Treatment-as-state status under the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act;
  • Federal and Tribal Superfund cleanup actions;
  • Tribal brownfield program development and enforcement redevelopment;
  • Intergovernmental cooperative agreements and state-tribal compacts;
  • National Environmental Policy Act compliance;
  • Federal environmental grants and funding; and
  • Pollution prevention in economic development.

Special Environmental Counsel Memorandums

July 8, 2016 – Memo No. 2016-3: “Culvert Case”: Implications of the Ninth Circuit Decision on Treaty Fishing Rights

July 5, 2016 – Memo No. 2016-2: Case Summary and implications of the Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes, Inc. decision on the reviewability of administrative agency decisions

June 27, 2016 – Memo No. 2016-1: Revised EPA Ruling regarding requirements for TAS applications

October 7, 2015 – Memo No. 2015-2: EPA Guidance for Discussing Tribal Treaty Rights Potentially Affected by EPA Actions or Decisions

August 12, 2015 – Memo No. 2015-1: Clean Water Act TAS Program – EPA’s proposed rule for reinterpretation of TAS under the Clean Water Act

July 2, 2014 – Memo No. 2014-1-5: Great News for the Canadian First Nations: The Supreme Court of Canada upholds Aboriginal land Claims

October 24, 2013 – Memo No. 2013-5: EPA Sued Over Alleged Non-Protective Water Quality Standards Based on Inaccurate Fish Consumption Rates

October 25, 2013 –Memo No. 2013-4: Ecology Cannot use the “Overriding Considerations of Public Interest” Exception to Reallocate Skagit River Minimum Instream Flows

October 25, 2013 – Memo No. 2013-3: Proposed 2013 Multi-Sector General Permit for Stormwater Regulation in Indian Country, 78 Federal Register 59672-50977 (September 27, 2013)

Articles and Presentations

Our attorneys regularly author articles and make presentations to local, regional, and national audiences on issues of concern to Native Americans.

Our Tribal Practice Group conducts an annual Tribal Environmental Seminar (TES) for Tribal leaders, Tribal environmental program managers, and in-house counsel. Themes for our previous TES have included the following:

2018 – Tribal Leadership in Preserving Environmental Quality Both On and Off the Reservation

2017 – Who is Left to Protect Mother Earth? The Need for Tribal Enforcement of Environmental Law

2016 – Exercising Tribal Sovereignty to Protect and Preserve Tribal Natural Resources, Foods and Lifeways

2015 – Tribal Environmental Plans – Enforcing Sovereignty

2014 – Using Tribal and federal environmental law to protect and restore on and off reservation natural resources

2013 – Balancing the Scales of Justice: The strategic use of administrative and judicial litigation to further Tribal interests

2012 – The Inherent Sovereign Authority of Tribal Government to Protect the Reservation Environment

2011 – Protecting Reservation Water Resources – Tools to Preserve the Quality and Quantity of Tribal Water Rights and Water Resources

2010 – How litigation has shaped Tribal environmental law and the future role of litigation in protecting Tribal environmental interests

Representative Matter

Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

We represent the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the plaintiff in litigation under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, known as the federal Superfund Act) against Teck Metals, Ltd. regarding environmental contamination in the Columbia River. On December 14, 2012, the federal district court ruled that the Tribes and its co-plaintiff, the State of Washington, had prevailed in establishing that Teck Metals, Ltd. is jointly and severally liable to the Tribes and State for past and future response costs at the UCR site. The Tribes has been awarded its response costs, including attorneys fees incurred in proving Teck’s liability. This litigation is continuing and the trial court will address natural resource damages in a future phase.